What began as a small chain of stores established by a group of Chicago-area retailers in 1924 has evolved into the nation’s leading retailer-owned cooperatives.
Throughout the years, many things have changed. From a few Chicago-area hardware stores, Ace has grown to include 4,600 stores in 50 states and 60 countries. Yet one thing has remained unchanged — Ace's commitment to deliver quality, friendly and helpful hardware service to consumers.
Take a trip through the past decades for a look at the milestones and achievements Ace has enjoyed through the years.
1920-1940: The birth of an American cooperative
1924: Uniting their Chicago-area hardware stores to increase buying power and profits, entrepreneurs Richard Hesse, E. Gunnard Lindquist, Frank Burke and Oscar Fisher forge the beginning of Ace Hardware.
1928: By year-end, 11 retailers join the fledgling company, now officially named Ace Stores, Inc.
1929: Ace opens its first warehouse, a 25,000-square-foot building in Chicago, and benefits from the public’s unwavering need for tools and hardware – even in the most unsettling economic times.
1931: Ace Stores, Inc., officially changes its name to Ace Hardware Corporation. Ace’s growing retailer base and buying power helps the company compete with mail order houses and chain stores.
1933: The Sherman Hotel in Chicago is home to the first formal retailer convention, and Ace’s 38 dealers from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin attend.
1939: With Ace Hardware rapidly growing in the Midwest, its retailers turn their energies toward improving their merchandising and developing innovative displays and promotions for their customers.
As Ace Hardware celebrates its 80th anniversary, it's the perfect time to look back at the company's unique past, full of risk, ingenuity and belief in the American Dream. Today, we reflect on the very beginning, when the foundation that would stand the next eight decades, was built.
In 1924, entrepreneurs Richard Hesse, E. Gunnard Lindquist, Frank Burke and Oscar Fisher united Chicago-area hardware stores to increase buying power and profits and, in doing so, forged the beginning of Ace Hardware. The following year, these men assembled an unofficial buying group. Their unique wholesale method of purchasing merchandise allowed them to obtain products for lower costs than they would have through regular jobber-wholesaler middlemen.
In 1927, the group voted to form a corporation, as all indications suggested it was an ideal time to launch a new corporate venture. The economy had been expanding continuously for eight consecutive years. The mood of the nation was secure and hopeful – as President Hoover said in that year, "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land."
By 1928, 11 retailers joined the fledgling company, now officially named Ace Stores, Inc. It was in this year that Ace Stores, Inc., was officially recognized by the State of Illinois. Each director - Hesse, Lindquist, Burke, Fisher, and a new affiliate, William Stauber – subscribed to 20 shares of the company's stock, a total investment of $200 per person and a $1,000 initial investment in the company.
Ace opened its first warehouse, a 25,000-square-foot building located on Ontario Street in Chicago, in 1929. Its downtown address and increasing momentum pushed Ace toward more recognition and credibility among consumers. When the U.S. market crashed in October of that year, Ace benefited from the public's unwavering need for tools and hardware – even in the most unsettling economic times. Ace was a lean operation with relatively few employees and didn't have large stocks of inventory, which proved to be advantageous.
While the 1930s brought uncertainty to many Americans, Ace's directors began to regard the concept the company's consolidated buying power as a commodity. By affiliating with Ace Hardware, dealers were protected. The overall mood at Ace was jovial and full of hope for the company's growth.
In 1931, Ace Stores, Inc., officially changed its name to Ace Hardware Corporation. Ace's growing retailer base and buying power helped the company compete with mail order houses and chain stores like Sears Roebuck, Inc. By the end of 1933, Ace was 38 dealers strong, with stores in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. The Sherman Hotel in Chicago was home to the first formal retailer convention.
Ace aggressively pursued its expansion plan, opening three new stores in 1934, six in 1935 and eight in 1936. Ace was attracting increasing dealers from a broader geographical area. Similar cooperatives were attempted but failed due to poor leadership and lack of dealer collaboration. Ace dealer books and store bulletins began to reflect the attitude of Ace through a new motto, "Ace sets the pace," a phrase that would remain a part of Ace for decades.
In 1937, eight retailers from Minnesota and North Dakota signed on with Ace, and in 1938, 16 more stores signed with the company. The founders referred to the Minnesota and North Dakota stores as the Northwest territory.
With Ace Hardware rapidly growing in the Midwest, its retailers turned their energies toward improving their merchandising and developing innovative displays and promotions for their customers. In 1939, a push was initiated to improve merchandising. Officers visited grocery stores and pharmacies to investigate new methods of display and promotion. At the end of this year, the company published a catalogue called "Store Modernization," which gave dealers advice on updating stores. Among the recommended options were installation of all-steel fixtures, ledge bins that held merchandise in neat rows, self-serve sections and vertical panels, which would be used to hang tools for display.
As the 1940s rang in, Ace was on its way to a brilliant future as the country's first cooperative hardware store, but obstacles would be uncovered for the company as America ventured into a world war. Ace's entrepreneurship and ingenuity in a time of labor and merchandise shortages was what would carry the company through.
1940-1960: From growing pains to profits gained
1943: In response to the wartime merchandise shortage and meat rationing, Ace begins selling baby chickens, or “Ace Chicks,” advertising it as a “conscientious way to make money.”
1946: The first “Super Ace Store” is launched, showcasing wider aisles and departmentalized self-service displays
1949: By the end of the ‘40s, Ace Hardware Corporation is supplying 133 Ace stores in seven states, with wholesale sales topping $7.26 million.
1952: Ace becomes a place to browse, linger and “help yourself” when the first “self-service” store is established in Merrillville, Ind.
1953: The Ace Perpetuation Fund, which ensures the corporate structure will continue after the passing of the last surviving owner, is established on June 8.
1959: Ace celebrates its 35th anniversary with wholesale sales of $24.5 million and 325 stores.
As Ace Hardware came out of the 1930s, the company was flying high, with stores in five states and more expansion on the horizon with a push for store modernization. By 1940, Ace Paint had become so successful its manufacturer couldn't mix it fast enough to keep up with the demand.
But the rest of the world was not enjoying similar security. War was brewing overseas as Hitler's army advanced through Europe, invading Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg and bombarding England from the air. Italy declared war on Britain and France just before President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress passed the Selective Service Training Act. More than 16 million men received registration cards for the country's first peacetime draft.
This meant that suddenly capable and reliable help became difficult to find, and Ace's growth surge, like other companies in the U.S., slowed immediately. Although five new Ace stores were added in 1940, this would be the last promising growth Ace would see for years.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and within hours, the United States was at war. Thousands of American men and women, including key Ace personnel, such as Buyers Charles McClaskey and George Cichy and Merchandise Manager Henry Oetjen, were called upon to defend the U.S. Several of the manufacturers who worked closely with Ace also answered the call to war by converting to munitions plants, drawing crowds of laborers who wanted to support the armed forces.
Ace projected the war would have a severe influence over the industry and eliminated advertising expenses and reduced inventories in preparation for losses. In June, Ace hardware posted its first loss of volume since the company's inception. The loss was especially challenging because the shortage of merchandise forced the company not to accept franchise applications and no new stores were added in 1942.
But, as always during challenging times, Ace directors and dealers came together to brainstorm a way to weather the loss. They sought a unique idea that would speak to the consumer's wartime need. In response to the wartime merchandise shortage and meat rationing, Ace began selling baby chickens, or "Ace Chicks," advertising them as a "conscientious way to make money." These Ace Chicks were a success for Ace during the war, despite the fact that no stores were added in 1943, and four had to be liquidated. Even with Ace's ingenuity under pressure, the company was facing hard times.
Then, in 1944, 156,000 troops stormed the beach at Normandy in what was to become the most successful and decisive battle of the war. The victory boosted America's economy, but excitement of this rebound was tempered by the death of Oscar Fisher, one of Ace's five founders, who died on August 5 after complications from surgery.
Fisher's duties were handed over to co-founder Lindquist, but Fisher's death left the founders with a newfound concern–what to do with the corporate stock of directors who pass away or retire? It was decided that the stock would be resold only to Ace storeowners as long as they remained with Ace. It was the beginning of Ace's perpetuation blueprint, one that would eventually lead to realizing the dream of a retailer-owned cooperative.
With the end of the war, Charles McClaskey and Henry Oetjen came home and began working for Ace once again, while manufacturing plants converted back to peacetime merchandise. Once again, Ace's warehouses could be stocked and applications for new stores could be accepted. That year, Richard Hesse reported that Ace had posted sales exceeding any year in company history. By the end of 1945, six new Northwest stores joined Ace Hardware, including three in Minnesota and two in North Dakota. In 1946, Ace added a total of 10 new stores.
Within this cyclone of growth, Ace began to feel cramped in its Michigan Avenue location and embarked on a plan of relocation that would take several years to complete. Having evaluated and been impressed with the operation of stores in other industries, namely grocery, pharmaceutical and automotive businesses, the first "Super Ace Store" was launched, showcasing wider aisles and departmentalized self-service displays. The Super Store concept caught on quickly, particularly in the Northwest Territory, and by 1948, several Minnesota stores were converted to this format.
By the end of the 1940s, Ace Hardware Corporation was supplying 133 Ace stores in seven states, with wholesale sales topping $7.26 million. As the 1950s began, America remained optimistic in the midst of the Korean War, and this optimism was reflected in buying behavior. Volume sales of consumer goods, including hardware goods, increased significantly throughout the year. As consumers purchased hardware, Ace retail stores expanded, and the expansion was sustained by Ace's new Blue Island Avenue headquarters. Its spacious rooms, electric conveyor belts, gasoline-powered handling trucks and enclosed shipping area combined to help Ace post the lowest operating cost and the highest sales volume–almost $9 million–in its history.
By the end of 1952, the self-service concept began to spread from store to store. Hardware clerks' responsibilities began to evolve into less hands-on and more advisory roles. Ace became a place to browse, linger and "help yourself" when the first completely "self-service" store was established in Merrillville, Ind.
The success of this self-service phenomenon was tempered, however, by the death of another Ace founder–E. Gunnard Lindquist. With his passing, the Ace Perpetuation Fund, which ensured the corporate structure would continue after the passing of the last surviving owner, was established on June 8, 1953, when shareholders met to discuss the future of the company. The plan levied that each every participating Ace dealer would contribute $3,000, either in lump sum or installments.
As the 1950s progressed, the Ace organization grew increasingly aware of the company's status as a national corporation. The officers wanted to capitalize on the Ace reputation, create a broader awareness of the company and solidify national recognition. During the summer convention and toy show in 1954, the dealers agreed to change all of their store signs from Ace Stores to Ace Hardware.
By the 1955 convention, Hesse reported the fourth consecutive annual sales volume increase for Ace Hardware. It seemed there was no end to the potential for growth, particularly with more than 200 stores and untapped national territory. It was at this time that Ace decided to begin opening stores in Toledo, Ohio. The first three Ohio Ace dealerships were so successful that, within a year, several other Toledo stores had signed up and the expansion led to soaring profits.
But this also had an overwhelming effect on the company's Blue Island warehouse. For the fifth time in its history, Ace would move–this time, to a warehouse in Bedford Park, Ill. It would take months for Ace to eventually negotiate an acceptable price for the building and move in, but the agreement began in 1959, the same year Ace celebrated its 35th anniversary with wholesale sales of $24.5 million and 325 stores.
With all eyes forward Ace's team members headed into the 1960s with hope of continued expansion. They didn't know then how far the next decade would take the company. From Ace's first IBM computer to new stores in Georgia and California, Ace chartered new territory–in many ways–during the 1960s.
1960-1980: Charting new territory
1961: Ace moves its warehouse and corporate headquarters to Bedford Park, Ill. The 450,000-square-foot warehouse gives the corporation much-needed space for growth.
1963: Ace begins to expand into the Southeastern and Western states. By the end of the decade, Ace establishes warehouses in Northern California and Georgia to support this extensive retailer growth.
1968: Founder Richard Hesse encourages retailers to expand their solid hardware image by adding new lines of merchandise, such as health and beauty aids, candy and greeting cards.
1973: Richard Hesse resigns as Ace president, agreeing to sell the company to its retailers for $6 million. The transition to making Ace a retailer-owned cooperative was complete in 1976.
1975: With stores in nearly all 50 states, Ace begins to expand into the international market, opening a store in Guam.
1979: Introduced to improve [P]rofits, [A]nalysis, [C]ontrol and [E]fficiency, the first PACE computer system utilizes retailer-operated minicomputers for ordering merchandise, tracking sales and analyzing purchase results.
Whereas the 1950s were known for Americans' complacency and easy-come, easy-go lifestyles, the 1960s were known for changes–and Ace Hardware was definitely a product of the times. While the country was embroiled in civil rights issues, Vietnam protests and heightening Cold War tensions, Ace continued to grow. But with this growth came unforeseen challenges.
One of the ongoing challenges was the Ace Perpetuation Plan, which proposed all Ace stock be kept within the company and given to Ace dealers at the time of any founders' retirement or death. While simple in theory, the plan was complex when it came time to legally document the terms.
So, in 1960, William Stauber convinced Richard Hesse to formalize the plan. Hesse and Stauber had differing views about the percentage of returns to be paid on the stock, delaying the unveiling of the final plan. In 1962 the last details of the plan were outlined, and the terms were presented to dealers. This proposal outlined that the Ace Perpetuation Fund was established to eventually purchase all Ace Hardware Corporation stock and that each dealer would eventually have one vote in the company's control in management, among other things.
As Ace grew, the paperwork grew as well, and keeping up with invoices became an arduous task. Art Krausman and Carl Bicking had been looking for an opportunity to convince Hesse to purchase the company's first IBM computer system. Hesse had been hesitant to computerize because he had talked to representatives from other hardware companies who lost large sums of money in technological investments when they failed to master their computer systems.
By the early 1960s, the invoices were so backed up, the dealers were grumbling and Krausman and Bicking spent evenings and weekends trying to catch up. Exasperated, the pair made another plea to computerize and Hesse reluctantly consented. Thus, Ace began the slow process of automating the company's accounting functions. Daily orders could be processed in one hour as compared to one day when completed manually. Plus, once the inventory was entered into the system, Ace was able to ship merchandise within 24 hours. The decision to purchase the computer system proved worthwhile and helped prepare Ace for even more intense changes.
In 1961, after years of negotiating, Ace moved its warehouse and corporate headquarters to Bedford Park, Ill. The 450,000-square-foot warehouse gave the corporation much-needed space for growth. The relocation took several weeks and presented some unique challenges, namely how to transport the company's new IBM computer. The maneuver required the removal of a huge window through which the bulky system was hoisted.
The new facility provided an ease of operation never before seen at Ace. It was at this time, in 1963, that Ace began looking to the southern states to increase business. Rumor had it that hardware dealers in the South were dissatisfied with the prices they were paying for merchandise. Ace officers began visiting potential Ace dealerships in Florida and Georgia and found a captive audience, ready to sign on with the Ace name. Word spread quickly across the Southeastern states and hardware dealers began to seek Ace out.
With Southeast dealers up and running, Ace began eyeing other territories and the directors believed the company could consider any location west of the Rocky Mountains. High freight charges for transporting merchandise over the mountain range, however, made the move impractical.
Then, in 1964, Dick Woodward, an Ace dealer who had closed his store in Kansas and moved to Southern California, announced he wanted to open an Ace store near Los Angeles. Within months, several stores in the Los Angeles area affiliated with Ace. Ace officers were so encouraged by the developments in Southern California, they started to seek out contacts in San Francisco. By the end of the decade, Ace established warehouses in Northern California and Georgia, in accordance with dealer requests, to support this extensive retailer growth.
In 1968, Hesse acknowledged the changing atmosphere of the hardware industry. New merchandise techniques and concepts were evolving and new types of merchandise were being brought into stores. Hesse encouraged retailers to expand their solid hardware image by adding new lines of merchandise, such as health and beauty aids, candy and greeting cards. He also emphasized the need for strong Ace identification, expanded inventory, competitive pricing, large sales areas, ample parking, extended store hours and consistent advertising.
By then, the IBM computer was paying for itself and the new teletype and data phones at the Bedford Park facility allowed dealers to place orders by phone. Equipped with advanced technology, two new distribution centers and a strong national presence, Ace headed into the 1970s.
As the new decade began, the California and Georgia warehouses were making it possible for Ace to service dealers like never before and this gave Hesse a new attitude about long-distance warehousing. Because of this, Ace leased warehouse space near Portland, Ore., and opened a new facility in 1970. Ground was broken for a warehouse in Lincoln, Neb., in 1971. The largest hardware distribution center west of the Mississippi River, the Lincoln facility covered more than seven acres. At this time, Ace was able to attract dealers in nearly all of the 50 states, including Hawaii. Volume was soaring and new stores were affiliating at a rate of nearly 200 per year.
Shortly after the construction of the Lincoln warehouse began, William Stauber died following an extended illness and Ace suffered a tremendous loss. Stauber had been a financial godsend to the company, often writing personal checks in the early days just to keep the corporation afloat. Immediately following Stauber's death, an audit was completed to determine the company's worth as stipulated by the Ace Perpetuation Fund Agreement. The total net book value of Ace Hardware Corporation at that time was determined to be more than $10 million.
Then, in 1973, Richard Hesse, who had planned to remain an active director until his death, resigned as Ace president due to his failing health. Confident of Art Krausman's ability to lead the corporation, Hesse agreed to sell Ace to its retailers for $6 million–less than half its book value. The transition, which made Ace a true retailer-owned cooperative, was complete in 1976.
Krausman was a populist committed to getting the dealers involved in the day-to-day operations of their company. He believed that among his first charters would be the establishment of an extended board of dealer-directors, elected by their peers. Uncertain as to how the elected board should be determined, Krausman studied the bylaws of other hardware companies and ultimately decided that the board members, who would serve three-year terms, would represent every size store in the organization.
Krausman also believed that the dealers, as stockholders, owned the annual distribution of the company's profits. In April of 1974, the company bylaws were amended to establish distribution of dealer-patronage dividends. In other words, the company would start distributing its profits to the dealers in the form of a dividend payment based on the amount of merchandise the dealer had purchased from Ace in the previous year.
By 1975, there was plenty to celebrate. Ace was projecting $450 million in sales. Additional warehouse locations were being investigated, a Toledo warehouse was being built and product lines were broadened. The IBM computer had been upgraded and was creating a revolution in Ace's ordering, pricing and inventory process. To top off all Ace's success, the buying and executive offices were moved to a leased space in an Oak Brook, Ill., office complex.
Then, on Oct. 20, 1975, Ace Hardware received a blow to the organization. The industry mourned the loss of Richard Hesse. Hesse left Ace with a legacy of practical business sense, great prosperity and a strong sense of direction for the future. President Art Krausman eulogized his former boss and longtime friend: "His dedication was unswerving and his commitment was total."
Ace Hardware spent most of the latter half of the 1970s consumed with expansion across the nation. Dealers were affiliating with Ace at the rate of 450 stores per year, and to keep up with demand, Ace leased a warehouse facility in Dallas, Texas. This expansion made automated ordering a necessity. To improve [P]rofits, [A]nalysis, [C]ontrol and [E]fficiency, the company introduced the first PACE computer system, which utilized retailer-operated minicomputers for ordering merchandise, tracking sales and analyzing purchase results.
Just as the 1970s were an exciting time of unhindered expansion, the 1980s would prove to be filled with challenges for the company. From a poor economy to the loss of Art Krausman, the company would cross many hurdles–but not without its fair share of successes.
1980-2000: Ace focuses on the future
1984: Ace chemists develop and improve solvent and latex paint formulas as the company begins manufacturing Ace Paint in a state-of-the-art 250,000 square-foot facility in Matteson, Ill.
1985: A retailer ordering masking tape at a store in Michigan pushes Ace past the $1 billion wholesale sales mark.
1987: John Madden, former NFL coach and popular football sportscaster, becomes Ace’s spokesperson, providing his image and voice to television, print and radio advertising.
1993: Ace opens its first retail support “super center” in Princeton, Ill. Spanning 1.1 million square feet, it remains the largest of its kind in the hardware industry.
1994: The “New Retail Age of Ace” is launched to battle the “big box” chain hardware stores and help ensure the company’s growth for years to come.
1996: President and CEO Roger E. Peterson retires, leaving a strong legacy of commitment to distribution excellence. David F. Hodnik takes over as President & CEO.
As the 1980s began, the nation's unemployment rate was rapidly rising. Ace Hardware weathered the recession with modest but positive sales. By the end of 1980, the company boasted 4,000 dealers, a new warehouse in Los Angeles and 75 new northeast dealers.
Later that year, the Ace's Board of Directors began succession planning in earnest. The Board, although it had a solid foothold on setting policies for management, relied on President Krausman's guidance. At 67, Krausman expected to retire in the coming years and the board questioned how the company would survive his retirement. The Board decided to appoint a second-in-command who would assume the presidency under Krausman's watchful eye and would be groomed for leadership after Krausman's retirement.
Steve Walton, an eight-year Ace employee who was Executive Vice President and Treasurer, was an ideal candidate. On July 1, 1980, Walton became Ace's third president. But Krausman proved to be a difficult act to follow and Walton found the transition to be rocky. After a year in the position, Walton and the Board mutually decided it would be best for Walton to step down while Krausman agreed to return to the presidential post temporarily.
With Krausman reinstated as president, the Board decided that too much of the previous two years had been spent on internal matters and rededicated the company to growth. At this time, Ace was picking up new affiliates at a rate of 350 per year. Ace decided to isolate areas of the country where no qualified hardware retailer was operating, establish an Ace store and, as soon as it was operational, sell the store to a dealer. Known as the Ace Retail Store Concept, this novel and unprecedented approach to expansion was a great way to test new merchandise and Ace concepts.
In the final months of 1982, Ace made plans to transition its leadership. Larry Gavin, a 33-year Ace veteran, replaced Art Krausman as president, while Theodore "Ted" Costoff assumed Krausman's role as Chairman of the Board in June 1983.
By the close of 1983, Ace had reached the $801 million sales mark, with the average Ace store pulling in $818,000 in retail sales annually. Later that year, Ace decided to build its own paint manufacturing operation. By the next year, Ace chemists had developed and improved solvent and latex paint formulas and the company began manufacturing Ace Paint in a state-of-the-art 250,000 square-foot facility in Matteson, Ill.
Another large step in 1984 was the launch of the "Store of the Future," an idea conceived by Bill Loftus, Ace's Vice President of Sales. The Store of the Future was designed to draw customers into key areas of the store and the concept pivoted on the establishment of power aisles that pull customers to the rear of the store. To return to the front of the store, customers would be required to pass angled aisles full of tempting merchandise.
In December of 1985, a retailer ordering masking tape at a store in Michigan pushed Ace past the $1 billion wholesale sales mark and ushered the company into a new era. Ace launched the largest sales promotion of its history – The Billion Dollar Sell-A-Bration – designed to put Ace on the path to $2 billion. But this wasn't Ace's only achievement during that year. It was at this time that Ace produced a new Ace catalog for commercial customers, opened retail support centers in Little Rock, Ark., and La Crosse, Wis., and broke ground for another in Hartford, Conn.
The next few years were filled with changes. In 1986, Larry Gavin retired as President and was replaced by Roger Peterson, who had been elected by the Board of Directors. The next year, John Madden, former NFL coach and popular football sportscaster, became Ace's spokesperson, providing his image and voice to television, print and radio advertising. Ace also added 400 new dealerships in this year and reemphasized a renewed commitment to retail and regionalism.
Sadly, in 1987, Art Krausman, died at age 74. His death had a profound impact on Ace employees. President Peterson wrote in memory of "Mr. Ace":
"He touched many of our lives very deeply and made us better for it, along with making Ace a much better company during the 37 years he so faithfully served. His imprint is on Ace. His accomplishments and his philosophy will live on."
The dawn of the 1990s saw a flourishing U.S. economy, and it wasn't long before Ace started feeling the competitive pinch from discount and warehouse stores like Home Depot. Ace's new Chairman of the Board, Kendall King, believed Ace would need to take a more proactive role in the leadership of the company and asking retailers to adhere to high standards. The answer, he said, was Ace 2000.
Ace 2000 was a "partnership of vision of the future," which pivoted on a successful alliance between retailers, distributors and vendors. Ace 2000 concentrated on customer service and satisfaction, as well as commitment to quality, and dealers were encouraged to develop well-defined store identities. Ace 2000 also addressed the need for advanced technology. Innovations such as ACENET, the PACE computer system, Retail Pricing Strategy Service, electronic communication and electronic order forms began to save time and money.
In 1991 and 1992, the Gainesville, Ga., and Prescott Valley, Ariz., Retail Support Centers were built and a 106,000-square-foot expansion to the Ace Paint Plant in Matteson, Ill., was launched. By 1993, Ace had opened its first retail support "super center" in Princeton, Ill. Spanning 1.1 million square feet, it remains the largest of its kind in the hardware industry. The company continued to strive toward its Ace 2000 goals when the "New Retail Age of Ace" was launched in 1994 to further battle the "big box" chain hardware stores and help ensure the company's growth for years to come.
When President and CEO Roger E. Peterson retired in 1996, he left a strong legacy of commitment to distribution excellence. David F. Hodnik assumed the position of President & CEO.
With the year 2000 quickly approaching, Ace was determined to hold true to the company's helpful philosophy, while focusing on brand consistency and further exceeding customers' expectations. With heightened competition it would prove to be one of Ace's biggest challenges to date.
2000: Ace launches its Vision 21 strategy to boost Ace retailers’ sales and profits, build the Ace brand and provide better service to customers.
2002: Ace signs national home improvement expert Lou Manfredini to serve as Ace’s “Helpful Hardware Man” and media spokesperson.
2003: The Ace Growth Strategy is launched, giving retailers the ability to be Vision 21 or Individually Branded.
2004: Ace's premier position in the industry is acknowledged by independent studies analyzing hardware stores in the market and ranking Ace number one according to all metrics. Ace also launches its exclusive Sensations TM paint with Scotchgard protector -- the first washable and scrubbable flat paint on the market.
2005: Ray Griffith is named President and CEO and encourages the Ace team for accelerated change, enhancements to the brand and to embrace retail.
2006: Ace puts the brand in lights by going on NBC's hit television show "The Apprentice." Ace uses its time on the show to give back to communities around the country. Wholesale sales reach 10-year highs, and the bottom line exceeds $100 million for the fourth straight year.
2007: Ace awards a fully stocked Ace Store to the Dream Ace Competition winner. Our growth strategy progresses with real results achieved for retailers with the Labor Force Optimization project.
Ace Hardware's success and growth in the 1990s gave the company the momentum for continued growth in the new millennium. Positive changes were immediately implemented that would streamline the company's business and maximize profit.
One of the first of these strategies was Vision 21, a plan designed to boost Ace retailers' sales and profits, build the Ace brand and provide better service to customers. Vision 21 hinges on five key drivers designed to position Ace to be a world-class retail organization and help retailers to grow within their markets. These drivers are entrepreneurial spirit, Category Management, customer relationship management, people power and technology.
Ace also focused its efforts on building the "helpful" brand. Ace's advertising focuses on promoting Ace stores as being "The Helpful Place," while the company's one-to-one marketing initiatives through the Helpful Hardware Club (renamed Ace Rewards in 2007) build customer loyalty. On the public relations front, Ace signed national home improvement expert Lou Manfredini to serve as Ace's "Helpful Hardware Man" and media spokesperson in 2002. Whether attending events at Ace stores nationwide, providing advice to consumers via the "Ask Lou" section of acehardware.com, or sharing his knowledge with media outlets from the "Today Show" to CNN, Manfredini is helping to enhance and build Ace's helpful brand.
In the fall of 2003, Ace announced an expanded Growth Strategy designed to build retailers' business and deliver a consistent, "helpful" experience with every customer visit. To better meet Ace retailers' needs going forward – as well as the expectations of consumers – retailers can now choose from two homes within Ace: Vision 21 or Individually Branded Retailer. Each home is designed to fuel retailers' continued success, further drive their entrepreneurial spirit and increase their viability in an increasingly competitive home improvement marketplace.
In 2004, Ace started the Branching Out program to assist retailers who wanted to add a branch location, as well as the “Right Size, Right Place” program for retailers who wanted to relocate or expand. The Sacramento, Calif., RSC opened, serving 350 Ace retailers. Plus the Colorado Springs RSC was expanded by 250,000 square feet.
In 2005, Ace offered the Equity Match Funding (EMF) program, designed to help new entrepreneurs join the Ace family. Ace was listed fourth on Franchise Times’ 2005 listing of franchises. Dozens of Ace stores were impacted by Hurricane Katrina in the fall of this year; the Ace team around the country rallied to support relief efforts with cash and product donations.
2006 was an incredible year for the entire Ace enterprise. Marketing and branding efforts continued to help consumers put a face to Ace – whether that face belonged to “Helpful Hardware Man” Lou Manfredini, season one The Apprentice winner and Ace spokesperson winner Bill Rancic, or one of thousands of store associates around the world. Entreprenuer magazine named Ace 18th in its ranking of the top 500 franchises. In the fall of 2006, Ace launched the Dream Ace competition.
Dream Ace wound up in 2007, with Gower Tally being awarded a fully stocked Ace Hardware store in Houston, Tex. One of the most exciting events of 2007 came when Ace was ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Major Home Improvement Stores” by J.D. Power and Associates. Ace’s “Helpful Hardware Club” customer loyalty program was renamed Ace Rewards and boasted 14 million members. Ace also launched “Helpful Earth Choices,” a program designed to promote environmentally friendly products and practices.
For media inquiries, contact the Ace Public Relations department via email or by calling 630-990-6446.
For customer complaints or questions about specific items, please call the Customer Care Center at 888-827-4223.