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Creative Transportation Doubles as Mobile Advertising for Store

Rick Alspaugh needed a solution to his Texas store’s overflowing parking lot, and building a parking garage didn’t make financial sense.

As the problem worsened, a neighboring business was turning Alspaugh Ace Hardware’s customers away so its own tenants had space for parking.

Some days, 50 of Alspaugh’s employees would take up the majority of the Kingwood, Texas, hardware store’s approximately 70-car lot, which is landlocked due to surrounding buildings.

“We had to do something, and we had to do something this year” was Alspaugh’s conclusion.

Last September, he prepared for the holiday season, when he knew the need for additional parking would balloon.

He dreamed up a solution: a white, 1996 Cadillac limousine with a blue leather interior.

Alspaugh bought the nine-seat limo to taxi his employees from a church parking lot that isn’t close enough to serve as overflow parking for the local businesses. He assigned two mostly retired workers to drive the car, and from Thanksgiving through December, the limo made five trips a day to the parking lot to pick up employees.

“It was trying to be a good neighbor and trying to do customer service and kind of have some fun in the process,” Alspaugh says.

The company bought the employees’ lunches all through December so they wouldn’t have to worry about how to leave the store to take breaks with their cars parked too far away for a quick walk.

Alspaugh’s Ace workers helped about 1,200 shoppers per day that month, yet the parking problem dwindled because the employees weren’t parking near the store.

Post-holidays, Alspaugh’s uses the limo on Saturdays, when the store is busy and parking spots are scarce.

Alspaugh opted to buy the limo because it was unique, and he knew community members would hardly notice if he used a van.

The fact that the six-door limo attracts attention, and passersby wave and offer a thumbs-up when they see it, gives the vehicle a dual purpose. In addition to improving parking, the limo has provided Alspaugh with a moving billboard.

He stuck an Ace Hardware flag on the vehicle and put store logos on the sides and a sign on the rear that reads, “Follow me to Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware.”

The store has 600,000 square feet of big-box retail competition nearby, so finding ways to make Alspaugh’s Ace standout is important—and providing parking is necessary customer service, he says.

“Everybody can do normal,” Alspaugh says. “We have to have exemplary service. Having a limo makes us different from everybody else.”

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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