Bill’s SportsCenter has been doing first rate business in Wauseon for years, with a reputation for excellence that goes far beyond the city limits of Tribe Town. When it finally came time for Bill to call it a day and retire from the business, someone new had to step in. A longstanding business of such an unimpeachable and rock solid reputation like Bill’s needed someone whose ethics and reputation were on an equal footing in order to press forward. While other businesses could get by with a King, the new owner of Bill’s had to be nothing short of an Ace…and that is exactly what has transpired. The new owners of Bill’s SportsCenter are none other than Jeff and Becky Rupp, who for the last ten years have been the owners of the profoundly successful Ace Hardware store just down the road on Shoop Avenue.
Just like Bill’s, the Ace Hardware store is well known far beyond the city limits. “It’s not just Wauseon,” Jeff said. “We like to support all the area schools. Through Ace, we get customers from all over Fulton County, and beyond.” The exact same thing could be said for Bill’s, which makes the fit for the Rupps even better.
How did this transition come to be? “I’m always keeping my eye out for ways to add to our business…to offer more things and more items to our customers,” Jeff explained. “I had heard a while back that they might be interested in selling this business, and I found out that I was wrong when I asked them. I said, ‘If you do, let me know’, and they came to me a couple of months ago and said that they were ready to retire.”
Why did Jeff choose a sports-centered direction in which to expand? “The schools in Northwest Ohio that don’t have local sporting goods dealers anymore…is most of them,” Jeff said. “When you look at Wauseon, Delta, Swanton, Liberty Center, Napoleon, Pettisville, Archbold, Fayette, West Unity, Morenci, Evergreen…there’s no sporting goods centers left in these towns anymore. If you look at the map of our customer base with Ace, it overlaps that area almost perfectly. Because we’re a local store – local meaning the 20-mile radius geographical area – we’re going to be able to offer our customers products that they’re not going to be able to find at a big box store or a Wal-Mart. We have a larger variety of logos, a larger variety of sporting goods and clothing, team duffel bags, shoes the colors of the schools in the area. They’re going to be able to get a better selection, and we’re going to be able to provide them with that ‘Ace…the Helpful Place’ service that they’ve come to expect from shopping at the Wauseon Ace Hardware.”
The inventory and equipment of the current site will eventually be transitioned into the Ace facility on North Shoop Avenue. “Once we get through our busy spring and summer months at Ace,” Jeff said, “…then we’re going to start shuffling pieces around inside our Ace Hardware store. Looking at an approximate September timeframe, we’re going to relocate the store right inside the Ace Hardware. It will be a ‘store within a store’ concept.” The name of the new store? If Jeff has one, he’s keeping it under wraps until the appropriate time. “We’ve had some ideas, but it’s subject to change at this point.”
If anyone has any fears of a possible letdown in inventory or service, Jeff is quick to dispel those concerns. Special ordering will still be available, and customizations of shirts and local letter jackets – one of the features that rocketed Bill’s into local legendary status – will remain a foundational part of the business. “We should be able to special order a lot of things, but we can’t guarantee that we can get everything,” Jeff said. “One of the great things that we can do, is that we have our own custom designs…CAD cutting. We just had someone who has Lyme disease. Some of his friends are making a shirt in bright green, just to raise awareness of Lyme disease. We designed that for them, CAD cut it on our machines, pressed it onto some shirts for them, and now they have these custom-made garments that they can wear to raise awareness for their cause. We do screen printing on top of the CAD cutting. We do embroidery work. Say a company wants to get shirts for their employees with their company logo embroidered on it, we can help design it and get those done for them. We do this stuff every day.” The Wauseon post-prom shirts are currently being designed at Bill’s, and when you see the special tenth anniversary shirts that will be given out at Los Mariachi’s in May, you will see custom embroidery done on the backs of the shirts. Yup…Bill’s, once again.
“Becky and I are very appreciative of the community support that we get at Ace,” Jeff added. “The number of customers that we get coming from farther out than just Wauseon, amazes me every day. We’re just happy to be able to take another local business, maybe make a few changes, add a few items, and make it something else where we can help serve the customers of our community.”
The legendary status of Bill’s will continue to live on and thrive under the guidance of Jeff and Becky Rupp, and their highly trained and dedicated staff. The only thing that will change will be the location, but that should be easy to find.
Just remember, “Ace is the Place,” and you’re there.
Timothy Kays can be reached at
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