At Ace, CFO looks beyond 2010 sales growth

Chicago -- After a year in which consolidated wholesale sales were up 2.1%, Ace Hardware Corp. is planning for sales growth of 3.0% in 2011.

"It feels good to be back in the positives," said Dorvin Lively, Ace CFO, speaking to co-op members assembled during the Ace Spring Convention and Exhibits in Chicago last week.

Lively added some color to the company's $3.531 billion sales performance in 2010. "Some of the drivers of the increase in higher sales were increases in the power tool and hand tool category, our heating and cooling, lawn and garden and some seasonal categories," he said.

The fourth quarter was the strongest of the year -- with a sales increase of 7.4%. It was also the strongest from a retail comparable-store basis -- positive 3.7%. For the year, retail comps were positive 0.7%, a big improvement from negative 6.1% in 2009.

Putting on his business operations hat, Lively expressed enthusiasm for a new benchmarking tool.  In March, the co-op received its first peer group report from some 2,700 stores that share POS data. "We never received such broad-based reporting across that many stores," he said.

Analysis of the data will help retailers identify specific areas in which to improve performance.

Over the years, store data has pointed to several basic factors of success, he said: the location and size of the store, local competition, great customer service, inventory amount and mix, best retail practices, and store owner and operational practices.