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            Most customers aren’t thinking in poetic terms, however, when they head to Gentry Hardware and Rental in Rockwell City. “People usually aren’t having the best day when they need something from the hardware store,” said Nathan Gentry, who has owned Gentry Hardware with his wife, Emily, since 2022. “Maybe their lightbulb burned out, their toilet is backed up or something else isn’t working. We try to help them and make it a better day by the time they leave our store.”

            Earlier this spring, a customer with 60-year-old metal lawn chairs in the back of his vehicle reported that a bunch of bolts had broken off the chairs in the same week. Gentry and his team were able to help him find the bolts he needed to repair his vintage chairs.

            Customers’ needs are as diverse as the merchandise in a well-stocked store. Some people who are heading to nearby Twin Lakes to fish purchase live bait. Others are working on home improvement projects and need garden mulch, paint or other supplies. Many buy top-selling products like bird seed, packaged concrete mix and bags of water softener salt, which Gentry Hardware delivers in town. Many also select flowers and other garden plants in the spring and early summer at the store’s greenhouse.

            There’s a lot to learn in this business, and it helps to have an entrepreneurial mindset, said Gentry, who also owns and operates Gentry Restorations & Kustoms, an automotive business in Rockwell City. Not only is the Gentry family enhancing Calhoun County economic development, but they’re showing what’s possible with entrepreneurship opportunities in a rural area like Calhoun County. “In general, hardware stores are recession-proof, so it’s a good business to be in,” Gentry said.

5 keys to success

Running his own businesses is a natural fit for Gentry. The 2001 Rockwell City-Lytton High School graduate completed specialized training in auto body work, paint and hot rod/street-rod fabrication at WyoTech before returning to Rockwell City. Through Gentry Restorations & Kustoms, Gentry handles a wide range of projects, from overhauling a 1971 Chevy Chevelle to repainting a 1973 Plymouth Barracuda.

      His artistry carries over to Gentry Hardware, where he painted the Hardware Hank logo on the building’s west exterior wall, complete with Hardware Hank himself roaring off in a classic roadster.  

            The building has long been a part of Rockwell City. Built in two phases, with the older section dating to 1958 and the east section added in 1963, the store housed Clark’s Supermarket for years. “We both worked there in high school,” said Emily (Knouf) Gentry, a Rockwell City native who teaches kindergarten at the South Central Calhoun elementary school in Rockwell City. “We never dreamed we’d own a hardware store here someday.”

In 2009, Randy Swanson (who owned a hardware store in Manson) transformed the former grocery store into Swanson Hardware. Gentry happened to be there the day Swanson hung a for-sale sign in the window in 2021.

      As he thought about buying the store, he discussed it with his family, including his mother, Lynne. “She said I’d be foolish not to take this opportunity,” Gentry said. “Emily and I also got tremendous support from lenders, too.”

      The couple debuted Gentry Hardware on April 28, 2022. Since then, they’ve learned a great deal about what it takes to succeed in this business, including:

  1. Meet your customers’ needs. Many of Gentry Hardware’s customers are retirees who want smaller appliances like 2-to 3-cup coffee makers and small microwave ovens. Sometimes meeting customers’ needs involves a bit of detective work. “People will call the store and ask, ‘Do you have filters?’” Emily Gentry said. “We have tons of filters. We ask questions to figure out exactly what they’re looking for.” Can’t find it in the store? “We work with three distributors, so there isn’t too much we can’t get,” Nathan Gentry said.
  2. Offer the unexpected. Gentry Hardware offers fun products like retro-inspired pop in individual glass bottles (which are popular with kids), from Bubble Up and Capone Cream Soda to Sioux City Sarsaparilla. Sometimes the unexpected comes in the form of customer service. While hardware has traditionally been a male-dominated business, Gentry Hardware’s manager is Amanda Allbee, who graduated from high school with Nathan Gentry. “The ladies who work here know their stuff, just like the guys do,” said Emily Gentry, referring to their team. Gentry Hardware, like other locally owned hardware stores in Manson and Lake City, provides employment opportunities for a range of people. The Gentry Hardware team includes Wendy Miller, Rusty Farrington, Lowell Stoolman, Sandi Kuebler, Landon Anderson and Mason Bahr. “Everyone has their specialty. Wendy knows all about cleaning products, for example, while Rusty is the wood guy.”
  3. Add value and best honesty. When customers ask questions about specific products, Nathan Gentry often creates how-to YouTube videos for Gentry Hardware’s Facebook page. These short videos explain the ins and outs of various items from grinding disks to lightbulbs, plus the videos offer practical tips, like how to select the right paintbrush for the job and “know your fasteners.” “We don’t advise you to buy something you don’t need, just so we can sell more products,” Nathan Gentry said. “Honesty pays off.”
  4. Become a community hub. Whether its local contractors stopping by, retirees dropping in to catch up on the latest news, or customers sticking around to chat, Gentry Hardware is a gathering place. “That’s what I hoped this store would be,” said Nathan Gentry, who serves on Rockwell City’s city council and is the fire captain with the Rockwell City Fire Department. Friendly, well-behaved dogs are also welcome to tag along with their owners and get a free dog treat, Emily added.
  5. Inspire others. The Gentrys work with a variety of local, young entrepreneurs in Calhoun County, including Jacob Lauver, who operates Lauver Live Bait Co., and Parkside Flowers in Rockwell City. The couple also hopes Gentry Hardware will create options for their two sons, Grayson, 11, and Wyatt, 8. “Our boys love hands-on learning,” Nathan Gentry said. “I hope they’ll have the opportunity to run the store someday if they want to.”

Gentry Hardware is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We get to meet so many great people in this business,” Nathan Gentry said. “It’s all about building community here in Calhoun County.”


written by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby

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