WHEATLAND – drubeHome has made a move that spanned approximately 100 feet, but in the process, have added years and miles to their amazing journey.
drubeHome, owned by Thane (56) and Keri Ashenhurst (51), has been the twin hardware/home store giant in Wheatland for years. They have recently purchased the former Wells Fargo Bank building in downtown Wheatland and have hit the ground running as they are getting things organized in the new building and transforming it from a bank to a type of general store.
“Prior to 1920 Drubes (pronounced ‘droo-bees’) was operating in this town,” Ashenhurst said. “My brother bought the business in 1989. It had three different owners in the ‘70s that struggled with it. At that time it was a welding/machine shop.”
Ashenhurst said that it had a regional following as machine shop and well-known because it manufactured the self-propelled hay stacking machine from the 1930s. The Ashenhursts have been in that original building on 16th Street for 30 years. The addition of the home store or the “softer side of things” as Keri Drube calls it opened much later in November 2019, across the street from the current location.
From small beginnings, the Ashenhursts have built a strong business and a strong tie to the communities they service.
“We had less than nothing when we started,” he said. “My brother got crippled up and we had to take over that welding machine shop back in ’91. He just quit showing up and we started doing it.”
With a business background and a bit of a ranching background… and no serious welding or machine shop expertise, the old adage of greatness being thrust upon him was placed upon his shoulders.
“People would hand Thane a part and want the work done,” she said. “Thane didn’t know how to do anything other than a little bit about welding. People would hand him a part and ask if he could fix it, and he would say, ‘sure, can you come back in a little bit?’ to which they would answer, ‘no, I’ll just wait here for it.’ When we did get them to leave and come back, he scrambled to find a way to fix it.”
With a strong Christian background from both Thane and Keri, their faith and their reliance on God has been a key to their business and their life, they said. They also added to that faith a lot of long hours, hard work and the willingness to get their hands dirty in something they both knew very little about. It took seven years before they started to climb out of debt.
“I started out as wanting to be a rancher and farmer,” he said. “Going into a machine shop and then retail was something I never expected.”
As for the adding of the home goods to hardware, that idea came from Keri who said that she saw husbands coming into the hardware store and their wives waiting patiently in the car. It was her mission to bring them in to shop for something that they may be interested in.
“We started getting the idea to do something more with housewares and soft goods,” he said. “We lost these ShopKo’s in all these small towns. They went out of business and they had over 300 stores nationwide. We lost the ShopKo in Newcastle where we have another store (Frontier Home Ranch & Supply) which is similar to Drube Supply, only the building is much bigger and up there we have a hardware store and also a home store all under one roof. We also have CARQUEST Auto Parts in that same structure.”
The Ashenhursts who were leasing the building on the north side of Ninth Street knew it was not a permanent location and kept their eyes open and patiently waited for what would be the perfect place for their softer side of things.
“Keri looked in the window when she saw that it was for sale and told me that she wanted it,” he said. “I said, ‘like for Christmas?’ to which she replied, ‘yeah, that’ll work.’ So that’s what she got for Christmas, but the grand opening wasn’t until July 17.”
According to the Ashenhursts, it’s been a “crazy year.”
“The project we did in Newcastle was twice or maybe three times as big as this project,” he said. “It was a big project. It took us five months up there. And COVID complicated both of these projects because the companies didn’t send the help that they promised when we got into these projects. Because of COVID their people couldn’t travel so we ended up having to do the labor all ourselves with our people.”
The new Wheatland store has Keri Ashenhurst written all over it and she has managed to utilize every square inch of space. To tackle two monumental projects after the age of 50 they say wasn’t intimidating, but tiring.
“We’ve done remodels off and on through the years,” he said. “And here, it was tiring with both of these projects back-to-back and of course, now maintaining them both. We had family that had come to help and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
When asked about the mission going forward, the couple smiled and pondered before answering.
“We just do what people need,” she said. “Whatever the communities need.”
“The opportunities just arose, and we took advantage of the opportunities,” he said. “If opportunities come up in the future we may take it even though I am not sure what the future will bring. We are now set up with our new software and the education we have received the past few years we are set up to manage multiple stores. Who knows, maybe more stores, which is news to Keri.”
Both Ashenhursts have their educational roots in business, Thane with a business degree from Oral Roberts University (1988) and Keri (Business Education) from Chadron State College where she said that she wanted to go into business but her parents wanted her to be a teacher. The Thanes married in 1989 and Keri put her graduation on hold and has since gone back to school and has picked up a psychology major in addition to her major in business. She still handles all the bookkeeping for their businesses. She also has the main input in all things on the softer side and the home side which is what drubeHome is all about. From selling televisions to laundry aids to trendy signs and Hank’s old-fashioned soda. Suddenly it’s all under one roof.
“We go to buying markets and have different contacts all over the nation,” she said. “We’re open and we’re happy with that, but it’s going to change and evolve into more of an old general store that has all those things you need. Thane is addiment not to be a boutique since we already have a lot of those in town and that retail area is well covered, but we supply things you need, like bath towels and bedsheets and blankets. Or shoes for your kids or maybe a soccer ball. When Shopko moved out you couldn’t get those things in town. And when we move all of our clothing from the hardware store location it will give us a chance to expand out there in the areas of sporting goods, camping, and fishing.”
The Ashenhursts work well with the rest of the downtown community and as business leaders, they try to make sure that their retail investment is not wasted on something that another local business may be invested in.
They grew up with a heart for ministry having had experience in missionary work and service. Their ministry to their communities has been exemplary and their business and lifesyle is their pulpit.
“When I said earlier that I wasn’t scared, I will say there are definitely opportunities to be scared,” he said. “Even after we’ve been doing this for 30 years. We’ve seen God come through for us and we discuss this time and time again, He’s always taken care of us. He’s always come through with a solution.”