Tom Richert: An entrepreneur who doesn't stop | June 29, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - June 29, 2012

Tom Richert: An entrepreneur who doesn't stop

by Jeb Bing

It's quite a stretch from the tony venture capital investors' office 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 has enlarged his prominent corner business at Sunol Boulevard and Valley Avenue to a 15,000-square-foot hardware store under the nationally known Ace Hardware brand name. A walk through the spacious store Wednesday where Tom and his son and partner Matt were working 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 running a modern-day hardware store can be.

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 the old lumber and landscape business in a new direction. Fortunately, in this age of computerization, the Ace franchises -- actually it's a co-op -- come 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 Richert. From a $1.99 U-bolt to top-of-the-line water-saving plumbing, Richert believes 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.

Richert and his wife Anne aren't your typical local lumberyard couple. He holds master's degree in Business from 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 real estate at the time was 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 got the itch to go into business for himself and, with Anne's encouragement, Richert Lumber was born. They sold their Peninsula home, bought the empty lot where Richert Lumber now stands, and moved into a rental 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. The first day's sales totaled $19.95, and he sold $5 worth 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, with his wife Amanda and their two young children, lives in Pleasanton, as do Tom and Anne. Anne's active in the Tulancingo sister city organization program. 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 Lumber, framed photos 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 were no homes or businesses across the street, where the Pleasanton Weekly office is now located; gravel trucks pounded the pavement on the two-lane street 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.