Home » Industry Events » Celebrating a Century in Business, Ace Reinforces Its Relevancy at the 2024 Spring Convention

Celebrating a Century in Business, Ace Reinforces Its Relevancy at the 2024 Spring Convention

Under the big Dallas skyline, Ace retailers from around the world began celebrating Ace Hardware’s 100th Anniversary at the 2024 Spring Convention. Along with the usual product discovery, training and networking opportunities, Ace retailers reflected on the success of the last century and received the battle call to achieve another 100 years of accomplishments. 

Ace president and CEO John Venhuizen reflected on how much Ace has achieved in 100 years. He gave credit to the founders for their ability to create relevancy in the business and applauded all Ace retailers over the years for continually evolving to best serve customers. 

“Our local owners have been eager to do something humans hate to do, which is change,” Venhuizen says. “Every era comes with these new challenges and opportunities, and our retailers have changed to keep the model relevant to consumers. But also interwoven throughout all those eras is a common thread that really hasn’t changed, which is our mission to be the most helpful on the planet and our purpose to exist to serve others.” 

Venhuizen says relevancy in the next 100 years looks like sticking with what has worked so far, which is striving to the best and most helpful hardware stores. 

“Going forward, we want to still be the best and most helpful, but also expand to being the most trusted brand and provider of home services, helpful hardware stores combining with trusted home services,” Venhuizen says. “In-store and now in-home is what we believe is our steps forward and interwoven into that thread of helpful.”  

A Winning Mindset

In the opening general session, Venhuizen emphasized the need for Ace retailers to play to win, rather than play not to lose. To do that, he says there needs to be bold and courageous action in all three of Ace’s customer segments—B2C, B2B and B2P—to gain market share in each of the segments. These actions include a focus on the home preservation market and testing and perfecting Ace Home Services, which will effectively allow Ace retailers to become fulfillment hubs for trades professionals.

“We are playing to win in all three customer segments, but because we’re Ace, our definition of winning is different,” Venhuizen says. “It’s about people. We gain by giving, we succeed by serving, we win by helping others. You’re not selling hardware, you’re selling hope. We will use our success not to pat our backs but as a springboard to serve our communities.” 

Andy Enright, Ace Hardware’s senior vice president of retail strategy and operations, addressed a topic on most retailers’ minds—the economy. He shared that even in uncertainty, the U.S. economy is actually the richest in the world, and no matter the economic conditions, Americans like to spend money to the tune of $19 trillion in consumer spending in 2023. 

To capture more of the spending market share, Enright emphasized the need to “go get it” and find those opportunities to grow and expand through strong leadership. He then announced a new partnership with FranklinCovey and the FranklinCovey Leadership Development Program Ace retailers can utilize. 

“There are thousands of new development areas ripe for new stores, we just have to go out and get it,” Enright says. “This growth will require bold leaders and developing leaders from within. We have 100 years of bold leadership to build on and have confidence we can go get it.” 

Also speaking to Ace Hardware’s legacy, Kim Lefko, senior vice president, chief marketing officer, encouraged retailers to think about the legacy they want to leave in light of celebrating 100 years in business. 

“Our marketing tactics will change, and we’ll change and evolve as well, but the heart, soul and ethos that we were founded on, they are wrapped in compassion and a heart to serve. That is what will get us to the next 100 years,” Lefko says. “Our founders were competitive, gritty and entrepreneurial but they also had a care for others. I think our founders would swell with pride seeing what you have accomplished.”

Lefko announced that the Ace Heartware Stories series will soon be streaming on three networks and that the Zac Brown Band will be the special musical guest at the Fall 2024 Convention in Chicago. 

Re-emphasizing Ace Hardware’s marketing efforts to get customers in the stores, Lefko elaborated on a new tool for Ace retailers, the Ace Article Engine. The Ace Article Engine is free for Ace retailers, includes a data bank of product-related articles and will help retailers capture those online consumers doing product research for information.

While digital marketing is just one part of the marketing funnel, it is quantifiably the most effective form of advertising for Ace, Venhuizen says. In 2023, Ace Hardware made large investments in digital marketing efforts that Venhuizen says have paid off. 

“The Ace Article Engine is just one of several efforts that we believe will lead to big returns because it will allow consumers to cut through the noise online and find the information they want and need,” Venhuizen says. “It doesn’t feel like advertising if you do the job of providing an answer. You have to follow where consumers are, particularly when they’re asking for information that is relevant to your business.”

Training, Deals and More on the Show Floor

Out on the convention show floor, the deals were flying with Deals of the Century and Deals of the Decade offerings, where retailers had access to limited time and limited quantities of deals on products. 

The Retail Training Center stage included panels and sessions on everything from B2B sales to leadership training, multistore ownership to loss prevention. 

A part of the independent home improvement industry for just one year, Lori Tracy Stobbe and her husband Nate were enjoying their first Ace convention. The couple moved from Minnesota to Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 2023 to open a ground-up Ace store there with no hardware or even retail experience. The store, Lori’s Ace Home & Hardware and Ace Handyman Services will celebrate its one-year anniversary in March. In just a year, Lori and Nate have added over 11,000 Ace loyalty members and continue to see new customers in the door each week. 

“We are beating the Ace performance expectation and on track for growth,” Lori says. “We appreciate the stability in the Ace model of business and the support we have received from them.”  

Dave Thompson, owner of Main Street Ace Hardware in Bowling Green, Ohio, is also new to the hardware game, having purchased the Ace store in January 2023. He attended the convention looking for new products, especially products in the building materials category, as that is a focus his store has taken. 

“I brought my 17-year-old daughter to this convention,” Thompson says. “She was able to point out products I wouldn’t have thought of, but that will definitely sell in our store.” 

Along with education and product discovery, networking with fellow Ace retailers topped many retailers’ reasons for attending. Venhuizen says there is a lot of work that is achieved at conventions with buying and training, but at the macro level, he says it feels great to be with the team. 

“Because of our size, it can feel like everyone is all over the place, but conventions are an opportunity for us to have those connections with our teammates,” Venhuizen says. “When everyone comes together, it creates an ember we think is important.”

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

Check Also

Vendors Share Industry Best Practices at IHI Conference

Attendees of the Independent Home Improvement Conference (IHI Conference) will have the opportunity to attend …