How Gemmen’s Ace Hardware in Hudsonville became ‘coolest’ in the U.S.

Consistently listening and responding to customer needs has attracted national attention for Gemmen’s Home & Hardware in Hudsonville.

And it all began with “pocket want cards.”

When Al Gemmen bought a store focused on plumbing supplies in 1955, he transitioned it to a full-line hardware store. Eventually, his son Larry and Larry’s business partner, Mitch Newenhouse, took over and continued the expansion. 

Anytime a customer asked for an item the store didn’t have, they would write it down on a card and put it in their pocket. Then they would add the “pocket want card” to a file. If the file was filled with enough of the same item, the store would add it.

They moved in and out of categories like hunting gear and office supplies. Most recently, they have invested more in grills and grilling supplies based on customer demand. 

That responsiveness has helped the store expand from 4,000 square feet with one employee to 42,000 square feet with more than 70 employees. 

“We just listened to what they were asking for and served that need and stood behind it with traditional values and customer service,” says third-generation owner Andrew Gemmen, Al Gemmen’s grandson and Larry’s son.
Andrew Gemmen (Center) and his family.

Customer service

That dedication to the Hudsonville community was recognized this year when Gemmen’s Hardware was named Ace Hardware’s 2021 Coolest Hardware Store alongside Strand Ace Hardware in Escalon, California.

“With more than 5,400 Ace locations around the world, no two stores are the same,” John Kittell, vice president of retail operations and new business for Ace Hardware Corp., said in a statement. “Each independently owned and operated store provides a shopping experience that is locally relevant to the communities they serve. The teams at Gemmen’s Home & Hardware and Strand Ace Hardware embody the unique and helpful spirit that makes Ace great.”

Andrew Gemmen says his team found out about the award early, in mid-2020, near the height of the pandemic. That gave them an opportunity to celebrate and talk about something other than simply surviving a challenging season.

“It came at a really good time to be able to bring it to the staff and the store that earned that,” Gemmen says. “Everyone was tired, and we were trying to get to the next day. … It helped them understand that what they are doing is different.”
Gemmen's Hardware in Hudsonville was named Ace Hardware’s 2021 Coolest Hardware Store out of more than 5,400 Ace locations around the world.
Events drive much of the excitement and uniqueness at Gemmen’s Hardware. The Ace award cited the store’s annual Mother’s Day and Father’s Day events, special visits with Santa during the holidays, and the annual “Ladies Night.”

66th anniversary 

In 2020, they shifted to virtual events, including virtual visits with Santa and allowing children to virtually nominate parents to receive a special gift for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, according to the release.

The store also has offered a series called Gemmen’s Workbench — free in-person seminars for the community on topics related to home, crafting, and hardware. Those were put on pause during the pandemic, but the store has every intention of returning to them. 

“We are a big believer in events,” Gemmen says. “We have to give reasons for people to come and see us outside of coming to buy stuff.”

He said the team treats events as a gameday, where they can showcase their skills and get better as a store.

“That’s what we practice for and get ready for,” Gemmen says.

In early October, the store celebrated its 66th anniversary with a small event. 

Whether it’s a hunter’s safety class, customer appreciation day, or anything in between, Gemmen’s Hardware will aim to leave people with a positive experience. 

“That just makes those individuals walk away saying, ‘That's not just my hardware store, that’s my go-to place,’” Gemmen says.

Read more articles by Jeremy Gonsior.