KEMPKER’S TRUE VALUE AND RENTAL IS CELEBRATING 50 YEARS IN BUSINESS
“Treating our customers like family since 1970”, a motto that not only resonates through the Kempker’s True Value and Rental stores, but through the history of the business.
The late Bob Kempker and his wife, Barb (Hunsaker) Kempker established Kempker’s Hardware in January of 1970 after purchasing Stebbins Hardware. The building originated at 725 Avenue G in downtown Fort Madison. “Bob and I went into the business with little knowledge about hardware”. Barb recalls. “I worked at Lampe’s Drug Store and Bob worked for the railroad then sold insurance and moonlighted as a roofer after they shut down his department at Santa Fe. It was a big step in our lives, but with a lot of hard work by both Bob and I and our five children, we made it happen”.
Opening a business and raising a family was no small feat, but to Bob and Barb it was a fun and enlightening part of life. “Bob loved people, he relished in the company of others”. Barb said. “He was just a people person, always smiling, always seeking conversation and never knowing a stranger. When others needed help, he was the first one to offer in any and every way he could”. That was quickly instilled in the way they ran their business. ‘Customers are our top priority’; words you often heard Bob speak and words that have been repeated over the last 50 years. “Customers always came first and with us being a smaller store if we didn’t have what the costumers were looking for, we found a way to get it for them”.
All five of Bob and Barb’s children, Sherry, Debbie, Sandy, Chuck, and Peggy, grew up working in the store. The kids would dust shelves, arrange inventory, help customers, and everything in-between. “Bob and I would work all day and the kids would come in after school to help out. We’d leave as a family to eat supper then promptly return to the store to finish the days’ work, most of the time staying till the kids’ bedtime”. Keeping with tradition all three of Chuck and Dawn’s children, Jason, Dustin and Emily, also grew up working in the store. “Seeing the grandkids do the same jobs as their dad and aunts used to do and with two of them now running their own stores, you just can’t ask for better than that”, says Barb.
Chuck Kempker, second youngest and only son to Bob and Barb now owns and operates Kempker’s True Value and Rental along with his wife of nearly 40 years, Dawn (Gray) Kempker. “Mom and Dad weren’t just great parents, they were great business partners and mentors too”, says Chuck, “their drive, dedication, and hard work showed us what it takes to be successful in a family owned business”.
With 50 years in business comes growth, and in the Kempker’s family business growth has meant relocation, site expansions, and opening new stores throughout Southeast Iowa and near Des Moines. After many years at their original location of 725 Avenue G, Bob and Barb found they had outgrown the 3,000-square foot building and made the decision in 1979 to build a new store at 1904 Avenue H which was next to Greenwald’s Grocery Store.
This meant more visibility, more parking options for customers, and a much larger floor space at 7,500 square feet. Yet still that didn’t seem to be enough for the ever-growing family owned business and the needs of the community. In 1990 Greenwald’s Grocery closed; opening the door for Kempkers to expand into Greenwald’s existing building and giving them more than double the floor space at 16,500 square feet. This allowed for instore expansions and the opportunity to bring in more inventory for their customers.
“Moving the building took a little strength and whole lot of help” Chuck recalls. “Literally taking a building off its foundation and moving it a few hundred feet is quite the task, but doing it while still serving the community well that was something we were quite proud of”. Never having shut the store down during regular business hours to move the building was only made possible with the help of many family members, friends, and staff. “We called in reinforcements, even the youngest members of the family helped out”.
Over the next 30 years growth continued and the name of the store changed. In 1982 Bob and Barb joined the True Value franchise and renamed the store to Kempker’s True Value Hardware. In 1994 Just Ask Rental was introduced and the dynamics of the business began to shift from just a hardware store into much more. “Adding rental was just the beginning. We added Radio Shack in 1998 and the floral and gift department in 2000”. Chuck said that gave way to a new slogan “a store within a store”.
In 2003 Bob and Barb knew they had built a strong foundation for their family owned business and it was time for them to pass the reins to Chuck and Dawn. After acquiring the family business and with the support of Bob and Barb, the pair began thinking outside the box and decided it was time to expand to other cities. In the same year, they purchased Shottenkirk’s Used Auto Dealership in Mount Pleasant located at 1405 East Washington Street making it a free-standing rental store and in 2014 they added hardware.
The expansions didn’t stop there. Chuck and Dawn’s sons Jason and Dustin along with their wives, Kimberly and Sarah were already involved in the family business and were ready to take on more hefty roles. In 2011, they added a third location in Burlington at 608 South 9th Street which is now being ran by Dustin and Sarah and a fourth location was opened in Grimes, Iowa in 2013 which is being ran by Jason and Kimberly. In 2017 their fifth location was opened in Huxley, Iowa which is owned and operated by Jason, Kimberly, Dustin and Sarah.
“I am proud of all of my kids and to see my sons and their wives follow in the family business is special”. Chuck says. “It won’t be long and the fourth generation will be running the show”. The grandkids Ryder, Pearl, Connor, Huxton, Mason, and George visit the stores often. The Kempker’s just welcomed their seventh grandchild, Oakleigh.
Although Kempker’s is a hardware store at its core, it still caters to the lady customers. In 2019 Dawn decided to rename the floral and giftware department to ‘The Girl’s Side at Kempker’s True Value and Rental’. Dawn said “I always recalled Bob saying ‘it’s the girls side’. Then you’d hear our customers call it that and the name just seemed to fit”. The Girl’s Side offers so much for the ladies and kids, but men can find some interesting gifts there too. “We bring in product to cater to both men and women”. The Girl’s Side is always stocked full of interesting finds and you are sure to find the perfect gift for a bride, mother-to-be, friend, and family member. From florals, memorial gifts, candles, to home décor, garden statues and flags, and so much more. “You just have to keep stopping in and looking around, there’s always something new to find as our inventory changes constantly”.
An open house/anniversary sale is being planned to celebrate the milestone anniversary. Sales will be taking place at all five locations and customers will have the opportunity to win some great prizes. Customers are encouraged to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for pop-up sales and specials which will take place for the remainder of the year.