At the Fall 2023 Convention, Ace Hardware pledged to build on a century of success and continue to help its retailers be “the place with the helpful hardware folks.” During the opening general session of the event, which was held Sept. 19-21 in Orlando, Florida, president and CEO John Venhuizen spoke on the importance of promises, both making and keeping them.
As the company plans to celebrate 100 years in business in 2024 and looks to the future, Venhuizen says Ace Hardware will continue to stand as a beacon of hope that brands can keep promises. This dedication comes in light of a 2022 Gallup Poll that showed trust in institutions is at an all-time low of 27%.
“A promise is not just a string of hollow words, it creates a sacred thread, it’s a declaration and a commitment that you will do what you say you are going to do,” Venhuizen says. “The sad truth is that we now live in a world where most people just roll their eyes with the thought of trusting a promise from almost anyone. But we cannot let the inertia of these broken promises swirl us into the abyss; rather we will make and actually keep our promise to be the best, most helpful hardware stores on the planet.”
Ace Hardware has committed to fulfilling its promise by focusing on three key areas: increase relevance to consumers, improve the economics for owners and inspire a more irresistible value proposition for employees.
To increase relevance to consumers, Ace Hardware is planning the launch of Yard Rx, which will provide personalized lawn and garden solutions and products for customers. Using selling data, the program will allow a customer to put together a fully customized product mix based on their location, climate, size of their yard, goals and more. The customer can purchase all the necessary products at a discount in one transaction online at the beginning of the season and receive multiple deliveries throughout the season, giving them the right products for their yards at the right time.
“To give you some context, if consumers said yes to our prescriptive offerings, they would spend seven times more on this purchase than the average lawn and garden customer spends in your store,” Venhuizen says. “We have an army of devoted and effective folks at Ace who are working on delivering this to you with excellence and operational elegance.”
The second component is improving the economics for owners by increasing spend on digital marketing and reach. Venhuizen shared that when customers in any given market are searching for products, 58% of the time, Ace stores are absent and don’t show up in the search. As a solution, the company spent $9.5 million on the Digital Plus program in 2023, increasing digital spending by 78%, which led to an increase of 90% in omnichannel spending by consumers.
“Continuing to increase digital spend can work to get more customers in the store to increase transaction,” Venhuizen says. “After years of pushing that customer transaction boulder up the hill, it seems to me that we have found an escalator to success and will figure out how to make it work for our retailers.”
Finally, in an effort to inspire a more irresistible value proposition for customers and employees, Ace will put additional effort into expanding Ace Home Services and provide customers with not only the products, but solutions. By increasing the reach of Ace Home Services, Ace also aims to increase the number of employees in trades-related roles, opening up new opportunities for current and future Ace employees.
“We already help our neighbors with the tools and knowledge they need to build their dreams, the expansion of Ace Home Services will add a layer of helping provide solutions,” Venhuizen says. “The will offer an attractive alternative path for employees to join the trades. It’s not just important, it’s our duty to give people an opportunity to engage in meaningful work even without a college degree.”
Promises of Product Discovery and Networking
Out on the Fall 2023 convention floor, Venhuizen’s message resonated with retailers. Brian Kabat, owner of Kabat’s Ace Hardware, says networking and seeing old friends is his favorite part of the convention and he also enjoys getting to hear from the president and CEO.
“I always appreciate how John speaks from the heart,” Kabat says. “He shows true leadership.”
Kabat’s Ace Hardware general manager Matt Boswell says he enjoys the twice-yearly conventions to reflect on where the company has come from and where it’s going.
“It’s great to gather together and hear from our leadership on where the company is heading,” Boswell says. “This event really sets the tone for the next few months and casts a vision of where we want to go.”
With over 70 new vendors and hundreds of new products, the promise of discovering new products was immediate.
In conjunction with the upcoming launch of Yard Rx, Ace Hardware increased its focus on lawn and garden products at this convention, creating the “The Greenhouse.” In this space, lawn and garden products, including many live flowers, were merchandised and displayed to give attendees the opportunity to see how they might work and look at their operations.
Delivering Training and Resources
Training was in full swing on the convention floor with numerous sessions available in the Retail Training Center led by industry experts, Ace employees and retailers.
Topics covered included: B2B, loss prevention, merchandising, inventory management, leadership, employee engagement, multistore ownership and more.
Erik and Jennifer Hykes, from Hykes Ace Hardware in Greeley, Colorado, say training was a significant focus for their time at the convention.
“We have a small store, so physical growth is a challenge, so we use our time at the convention to take part in training sessions to help us grow in other ways,” Jennifer says.
Stephanie White, director of marketing and community outreach for Clark’s Ace Hardware, says she spent time working with Ace’s marketing teams, learning more how to effectively use Google ads and other digital advertising.
“The convention allows us to engage with everything Ace has to offer and develop an even deeper level of customer service,” White says. “Because in the end, it’s all about service for us.”
The Ace Hardware Spring 2024 Convention will take place March 12-14 in Houston, Texas. Subscribe to the Hardware Retailing weekly newsletter for updates on Ace and all the industry’s wholesalers and co-ops.