BUILDING A DIFFERENT FUTURE: Former engineer tackles small business in neighborhoods he knows well

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AURORA | Rick Weed is plenty familiar with southeast Aurora’s newer neighborhoods.

During his career in civil engineering and land surveying, he helped lay the groundwork for the neighborhoods that became Saddle Rock and Tallyn’s Reach, among others.

Now, as the owner of a new Ace Hardware store in Saddle Rock, Weed is again working on those homes, this time helping homeowners with everyday repairs.

Rick Weed prepares a bucket of paint for a customer at his new Ace Hardware store, Aug. 5 in Saddle Rock. During his career in civil engineering and land surveying, Weed helped lay the groundwork for the neighborhoods that became Saddle Rock and Tallyn's Reach. Now, as the owner of the new store, Weed is again working on those homes, this time by helping homeowners with everyday repairs. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Rick Weed prepares a bucket of paint for a customer at his new Ace Hardware store, Aug. 5 in Saddle Rock. During his career in civil engineering and land surveying, Weed helped lay the groundwork for the neighborhoods that became Saddle Rock and Tallyn’s Reach. Now, as the owner of the new store, Weed is again working on those homes, this time by helping homeowners with everyday repairs. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Owning the store at 7420 S. Gartrell Rd. is sort of like coming home for Weed, who worked in an Ace Hardware during his high school and college years. Even during his 17-year career with the engineering firm Carroll & Lange, Inc., Weed remembered his Ace days fondly.

“I could always imagine myself working in an Ace Hardware,” he said.

Weed’s store opened in June and this weekend is set to celebrate with a grand-opening celebration.

The 11,670 square-foot store near Gartrell Road and E-470 has three full-time employees, five part-timers and Weed.

“I hope to significantly grow that in the future,” he said.

The path that led Weed back to Ace started two years ago after the recession hammered Weed’s engineering business.

After working with Carroll & Lange for several years, Weed and two other employees purchased the firm in 2005. Initially, business was brisk but after a few years the residential real estate market collapsed.

“We started seeing some what we considered at the time insignificant signals,” he said. “But then all the sudden the bottom fell out in 2008.”

The company had for years focused on civil engineering and land surveying projects for new residential neighborhoods. That included storm drainage and utility projects in many of the neighborhoods along E-470.

“We did a lot of work down in this area,” he said. “A lot of these houses I’m very familiar with the civil design aspect of it.”

But that focus on residential property meant when building stopped, so too did much of the firm’s work.

“We were in the wrong market at the wrong time. Most of our work was in residential and that market just ended over night,” he said.

Weed had told his friends for years that he always envisioned himself going back to Ace Hardware when he retired. So, in 2011, when he set out to look for a new career, he decided to look into owning his own hardware store.

Barney Onken, Ace Hardware district manager, said the company is set up as a cooperative of stores, not a series of franchises the way other companies are.

The new investors like Weed who launch new stores are often people beginning a second career, he said, but they come from a diverse cluster of industries, including retail and other small business.

“Our new investors really do stretch the entire gamut of previous careers,” he said.

For Weed, running the store has been a fun experience so far, especially the time he gets to spend on the sales floor, helping customers get the right materials for their repair projects.

Having spent several years in an office, Weed said he hopes this career path involves plenty of time away from his desk, interacting with customers.

“That’s where I have the most fun,” he said. “The backroom side of things, I did that for many years with my engineering firm. I like being out front, I enjoy meeting people and talking to people.”