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Ace Hardware CEO: Focusing on Logistics, Labor and ‘Rational Optimism’

The Ace Hardware Spring 2018 Convention & Exhibits brought together independent retailers, vendors and Ace corporate personnel in an environment designed for easy product ordering and sharing information.

Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen addressed retailers at the convention, emphasizing three competitive necessities: efficient product delivery, high-quality employees and “rational optimism.”

Venhuizen spoke at the general session, which is a kickoff event at Ace buying shows that Ace executives use to update retailers on the state of the company and encourage them to strategize for growth. The convention ran March 15-17 in Dallas.

Retail is encountering revolutions in logistics and labor, creating challenges for independent retailers who need to compete on fast product delivery and hiring top talent, Venhuizen says.

Ace is working to revamp its logistics system to help retailers offer convenient in-store selling and faster product delivery.

The goal is to empower retailers to better leverage the high-quality products they sell without Amazon’s free shipping perpetually beating them on convenience, Venhuizen says.

Ace plans to make logistical changes, such as more efficient truck routes, so the cooperative can make smaller deliveries more often to stores, which can then get products to customers faster, he says.

Ace retailers can beat Amazon’s technical, impersonal service with community relationships, but they also need to get products to customers faster, Venhuizen says.

“I believe the challenge of our time is to figure out how to economically deliver less stuff to local stores more frequently,” he says.

The Ace Hardware Spring 2018 Convention & Exhibits took place March 15-17 in Dallas.

Competing for Employees

Venhuizen also urged retailers to consider company growth as an opportunity for creating career-track jobs for employees.

A growing company that values its employees keeps them engaged, offers opportunities for career advancement and helps workers buy into its values, Venhuizen says.

To be successful, Ace stores need staffers who are motivated and consider working for the business to be an “aspirational career,” he says.

Independent retailers have to attract customers who love buying from their businesses, and their staff is key to that, Venhuizen says.

Only 30 percent of shoppers get directional assistance in stores and 14 percent get other assistance, which means retailers need more motivated employees who spend more time with customers, he says.

“Your customers aren’t the most important. Your employees are,” Venhuizen says.

Retailers must offer a work environment where employees thrive, he says. Good employees can demand to work for excellent companies, and retailers need “rationally optimistic discipline” to become standout employers and grow, he says.

On the Show Floor

After the general session, Ace retailers flocked to the show floor to look for products, build business relationships and grow their product and operational knowledge.

Dan Henderson, owner of Lakeview Ace Hardware in Lakeview, Oregon, attended educational seminars on improving and sustaining a store’s in-stock position. He also looked for good deals on products to sell at his business.

“I look for is items we can move quickly for a better margin,” he says.






Matt Bachmeier with Belgrade Ace Hardware in Belgrade, Montana, was on the hunt for a new category to add to his operation and grow sales.

He was also looking to make connections with other retailers, Ace corporate staff and product vendors. His business recently joined the co-op, so learning was a high priority, he says.

“We had a lot of fact-finding to do about processes and the Ace way of doing things,” Bachmeier says.

Similarly, Jimmy Smith, owner of Thomas Ace Hardware in Paradise, California, was focused on building relationships and learning. Retailers and vendors offer good insight into ways to improve business, Smith says.

“I like to meet people and pick their brains about what’s successful in their stores,” he says.

About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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