The Raleigh family stands in front of the wall of paint swatches Friday at Raleigh’s Ace Hardware. From left are Lauren, 6, Matt, 32, Lillian, 10 months, and Ellen, 27. Matt is the president of Raleigh’s Ace Hardware, while Ellen is a part-time instructor at the Albert Lea Family Y. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune
The Raleigh family stands in front of the wall of paint swatches Friday at Raleigh’s Ace Hardware. From left are Lauren, 6, Matt, 32, Lillian, 10 months, and Ellen, 27. Matt is the president of Raleigh’s Ace Hardware, while Ellen is a part-time instructor at the Albert Lea Family Y. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Archived Story

Family is the place

Published 1:00pm Tuesday, March 5, 2013

He is the guy who helps all sorts of people with their home improvement problems. Many people either recognize or know Matt Raleigh of Raleigh’s Ace Hardware. But what does he do when he isn’t at the store?

“I’m actually a boring person,” said the 32-year-old father of two daughters.

It’s not entirely true. Raleigh enjoys going to the movies on Friday nights, and he often quotes lines from movies he likes. His favorite three movies are “Star Wars,” “Anchor Man” and “Legends of the Fall.”

He is an Albert Lea High School graduate from the class of 1998. He moved to Albert Lea with his family his freshman year from a small town in Colorado. His father and mother, Dennis and Peggy, established Raleigh’s Ace Hardware that year.

He went to Winona State University and graduated in 2002 with a degree in business administration.

Matt has three older sisters and one younger brother, and no sibling was interested in going into the hardware business. Matt worked at a hardware store in college, and after hunting for work in the Twin Cities, he came back to Albert Lea and began working at the family store.

Then he met Ellen VanderSyde. Her family owned five rental properties and came in often while doing maintenance. Her brother, Shannon, set them up. He gave Matt her number.

But it wasn’t her number. It was her mother’s. Matt called Ellen’s mom, got the correct number, then went on the date. They went to Green Mill for dinner, then to Holiday Lanes. Afterward, they went sledding at night at Lakeview Elementary School.

At first Ellen thought Matt was “dorky but handsome” and eventually they fell in love, she said.

“He’s very old-fashioned when it comes to opening doors and things like that,” she said.

They wed in September 2006. It was meeting and marrying Ellen, he said, that kept him in Albert Lea and in the hardware business.

In addition to movies, he likes softball in the summer and spending time with family. He and Ellen’s daughters are Lauren, 6, and Lillian, 10 months.

Matt’s father died in 2010 after a battle with prostate cancer. The shock wasn’t the death, because he had been fighting in Stage 4 for two years, but for Matt the shock was the loss of a close family member. His father had been strong and hard-willed, but then he was gone.

“I had to become the leader,” he said.

He and his mother remain the owners, and he is the president of the company. Running a business can eat up a lot of personal time, as he witnessed with his father, but Matt said he has made a commitment to make family the higher priority.

“I don’t like sacrificing family time for work,” he said.

A typical day means getting to work at 8 a.m. and arriving at home by 5:30 or 6 p.m. He spends most days being asked all kinds of questions, either by employees or by customers. In between, he keeps banging away on the never-ending effort of keeping the store organized.

One difficulty, he said, can be finding employees who take initiative and don’t need specific directions on everything. Right now, however, he has a pretty good crew, Matt said.

He doesn’t travel much but manages to get out of town for annual Ace Hardware conventions to places such as New Orleans and Chicago.

He said the gatherings show him how small Albert Lea is but also remind him why he would rather raise a family here. Many people in high school want to measure success by where they go afterward. He said living in New York might sound exciting to people back in Minnesota but the living conditions — cramped apartment, crabby New Yorkers, high cost of living — isn’t worth the tradeoff. Getting out of Albert Lea, he said, doesn’t necessarily mean success.

Matt said he is always looking for ways to improve the store. Ace has a new line of paint that has received high praise from interior design media. And he will be working with Ace to reset the aisles this year to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.

The major aspects he has against his larger competitors in town is customer service and being nimble. In other words, he and his staff are quick to help people, who often just want to get in and get out and get back to work, and they are quick to adjust their inventory based on what’s in demand. For instance, during last year’s drought, people wanted hoses, so he upped his stock.

However, he stays calm despite customer questions, competition and family matters because, as he said, “You can’t spend too much time worrying.”

 

Matt Raleigh

Age: 32

Address: 1005 St. Jacob Ave.

Livelihood: part owner of Raleigh’s Ace Hardware

Family: wife, Ellen, 27; daughters Lauren, 6, Lillian 10 months

Interesting fact: He enjoys listening to financial guru Dave Ramsey’s radio show.