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By Jeb Bing

Tom Richert: An entrepreneur who doesn't stop

Uploaded: Jul 20, 2012

It's quite a stretch from the tony venture capital investors' offices along Page Mill Road in Palo Alto to a lumberyard in Pleasanton, but Tom Richert made that move in 1976 and is today one of Pleasanton's most successful entrepreneurs. Now, 36 years later, he had enlarged his prominent corner business at Sunol Boulevard and Valley Avenue into a 15,000-square-foot hardware store under the nationally-known Ace Hardware brand name. A walk through the spacious store, where Tom and his son and partner Matt work with the rest of the staff to sort some of the 50,000 pieces of inventory now being sold at Richert Lumber (yes, the name continues) shows what a daunting task it is to run a modern-day hardware store.

Tom is a long-time lumber and landscape businessman who's comfortable talking house siding, cabinets, plywood quality and other materials with construction crews and do-it-yourself homeowners. Bird houses, coffee makers and some 60 or more power tools that are now part of his Ace-brand merchandise are moving his lumber and landscape business in a new direction. Fortunately, in this age of computerization, the Ace franchise (actually its a co-op) comes with teams of specialists who bring in products based on geographical studies, apply the labels, arrange the shelves according to customer convenience and interests, and then leave the selling, service and promotion to the Richerts. From a $1.99 U-bolt to top-of-the-line water-saving plumbing, Richert believe he can compete head-to-head with the big box stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot in terms of pricing and even better when it comes to serving the Pleasanton market which he serves.

Richert and his wife Anne aren't your typical local lumberyard couple. He holds Masters' degree in Business form Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) and found work in a local lumberyard at a time when jobs were hard to find. He then joined a major chemical firm's three-man financial team on Page Mill Road where office real estate at the time was among the most expensive in the world. Anne, meanwhile, used her degree from UC Berkeley to join the management team at Atari, one of the early computer game companies. They married in 1970 and it was just a few years later, when Tom get the itch to go into business for himself. With Anne's encouragement, although Tom recalls that her father was less than pleased, Richert Lumber was born. They sold their Peninsula home, bought the empty lot where Richert Lumber now stands and moved themselves into a rental home in the Val Vista neighborhood. Tom bought an 8-foot-by-10-foot building and moved it onto the site which he proudly called his corporate headquarters for the next five years, selling landscape products at the start. First days sales totaled $19.95 and $5 on the second day, he recalls, but business picked up after that.

Matt was the couple's first child with two more to follow: Amy, who handles an Arizona state tourism office in Scottsdale, and Dan, who is in the music business in Los Angeles. Matt, who with his wife Amanda and their two young children live in Pleasanton, as do Tom and Anne. Anne's active in the Tulancingo sister city organization program. Active in community affairs, the Richerts through their store also sponsor boys and girls athletic teams with the Richert Lumber logo a familiar site on Pleasanton sports fields.

Besides pictures of Little League and other sports teams lining the walls at Richert's store, framed photos there also offer a visual history of Pleasanton from 1976 forward. When the business opened, the city's sewer treatment center was just a few yards north on Sunol Boulevard; there we no homes or businesses across the street, where the Pleasanton Weekly office is now located; gravel trucks pounded the pavement on two-lane Sunol on the average of one a minute, Tom Richert recalls, and Vintage Hills and Mission Park homes were just being planned. Of course with the building boom just getting under way in Pleasanton, a landscape business and later a lumberyard proved a bonanza for the Richerts, who once called Page Mill Road and the Peninsula their home.