Venhuizen's rule: no standing still

Orlando, Fla. -- Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen took the stage in Orlando during the co-ops Fall Convention and energetically spelled out reasons for Ace stores to be optimistic. He also declared: We lack the luxury to stand still.

Venhuizen went on to detail some of the major themes emanating from the Oak Brook, Ill.-based hardware co-op, including the idea of investing in its people and its infrastructure.

Venhuizen, who earlier this year succeeded Ray Griffith as Ace CEO, described Ace as a co-op on solid ground while investing in its future.

Wholesale revenues year to date are about $2.4 billion, up 3.2%. More impressive, he said, are the numbers at retail 4.1% same store sales growth. With that momentum, he said the co-op has a chance to stem the nine-consecutive-year declines in transactions. 

The co-ops debt to equity ratio improved dramatically as the co-op reduced external debt by more than a hundred million in the past year. And record-high service levels appear to be rising from fill rates of 97.1% a year ago to 97.3% today.

He also pointed to seven consecutive J.D. Power & Associations awards as signs of customer engagement.

Are things perfect? Far from it, Venhuizen said. "There is a long list of things about which we should be productively paranoid. But on balance, youre company is solid.

Surveying the retail industry shows causes of competitive concern amid consolidation. Venhuizen pointed to two developments on this front. One is the bankruptcy and subsequent purchase of Orchard Supply Hardware by Lowes that brings a 50 billion retailer that owns 72 hardware stores in California. Another is the growth of Nashville-based Central Network Retail Group (CNRG), that went from zero to