For Ace, retail is increasingly local

Even before Ace Hardware Corp. reported high single-digit sales increases for the quarter and the year — and even during a lingering housing downturn — CEO Ray Griffith told dealers that he liked the position in which Ace finds itself.

“Ongoing uncertainly keeps consumers cautious about spending, but many of you are doing well,” he told the members gathered in Denver for the co-op’s market last year.

In Orlando, Fla., at the Oak Brook, Ill.-based co-op’s Spring Convention, Griffith had an even better message. Performance in 2011 was ahead of 2010 and ahead of plan.

The trio of (relatively) new marketing and merchandising talent for Ace — John Surane (March 2009), Ken Goodgame (August 2010) and Jeff Gooding (came in June 2010) paint a picture of a co-op enjoying new tools for prosperity — brands such as Craftsman and the new paint-and-primer in one Clark+ Kensington, among them. A difficult transition to SAP supply chain management system is behind them.  Said Goodgame: “We are now running it, and we intend to take advantage of it.”

Both Surane and Goodgame have Home Depot experience on their resume, and all three understand that part of their job is to give Ace retailers the support they need to thrive even in the shadow of the national chains. A shift to fully integrated line reviews and a tightening of e-commerce identity standards for retailer websites are geared to product long-term benefits for the co-op.

One concept they have in their favor — and an idea they intend to fuel with marketing and programs — is the association of Ace with the local entrepreneur.

“Our competitive positioning around the big boxes and everybody else, clearly the biggest competitive advantage for the Ace Hardware store, is that it’s locally owned and operated. It’s part of the community,” Surane said. “Being locally owned is a powerful competitive advantage by its stores — one that the other guy can’t copy.”

While eco-friendly and made in the USA remain trends to watch, going local is the one that Ace is most eager to promote. “I don’t know if there is anything more American than the local hardware store, and the entrepreneur that runs that store,” Surane said.