Ace Hardware, the hardware cooperative, has plans to open 750 new independently owned stores domestically over the next five years, company officials announce. Ace’s multi-faceted approach to growth looks to a variety of channels and opportunities for expansion, including a growing emphasis on the retail grocery sector. Citing double digit growth, unparalleled customer enthusiasm and increased store traffic, grocery retailers John Stokes and Jerrold Russell have found their market differentiator with Ace Hardware, officials add.
Stokes Market, an independent grocer based in Salem, Utah, reports significant growth since aligning with Ace Hardware in 2011. Owner John Stokes knows the competitive landscape of the retail grocery industry well; he is a third generation independent grocer. Stokes purchased the now Ace Hardware-Stokes Market in 2011, a grocery space that was left bankrupt by previous ownership. Stokes immediately knew he needed to reorganize and revitalize the sprawling 42,000 sq. ft. space, he says.
“We knew of other independent grocers who had experienced success pairing their grocery business with an Ace Hardware store, so we decided to go for it,” adds Stokes. Within mere months of incorporating Ace Hardware into the business, the operation became profitable.
Today, Stokes Ace now fills 8,000 sq. ft. of the total 42,000 sq. ft. store space. Not just a single department, the hardware store is integrated into the overall grocery layout. According to Stokes, “Ace is a real money-maker – the best division of the store.” The hardware margins have allowed Stokes to be more aggressively priced in the grocery categories, helping to compete with local big-box grocery retailers. Overall store revenue is up 10% versus 2012 with hardware revenue also up 10%.
For Stokes Market, it’s all about the customer experience, led by store manager Gene Bond. Consumers can shop for more than just groceries, but also a complete selection of hardware in its “bolt on” format. “Our customers love the accessibility,” says Bond. “Since our grocery store has hours that extend far beyond the home improvement stores in the area, we are able to be the one-stop shop and after-hours resource for DIY customers.”
Jerrold Russell, owner of three Piggly Wiggly grocery stores outside of Birmingham, Al., opened his first Ace Hardware alongside one of his grocery locations in December 2013 and is already seeing success. “We are consistently seeing 20% increases each week, compared to the prior year. Grocery food sales are up more than 10%, as well. Plus, our customers love the concept,” says Russell. The addition of Ace Hardware of Clay has been so well received that Russell has plans to add an Ace Hardware to a second Piggly Wiggly within the next 12 months.
“At Ace, we continuously work to identify emerging opportunities and channels to grow our business,” says Curt DeHart, director of new business, Ace Hardware Corporation. “We’re already seeing excellent forward momentum among independent grocers and regional grocery chains, so much so that we are forecasting approximately 20% of Ace’s growth in the coming years to result from the grocery channel.” In 2013 alone, more than 15 grocery stores opted to make Ace Hardware part of their core business.
“There are incredible synergies between Ace’s convenience hardware model and that of the independent grocer,” says DeHart. “The principles that drive Ace; service, convenience and quality are all very relevant to independent grocers – as is the flexibility that comes with being part of the Ace network.”