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Ace Looks to Experiences, Relationships for Store Success

In-store experiences and customer relationships were major topics at the Ace Hardware Spring 2019 Convention & Exhibits.

Howard Schultz, former chairman and CEO of Starbucks, spoke at the convention’s general session, which kicked off the March 26-28 buying show in Orlando, Florida.

Ace president and CEO John Venhuizen interviewed Schultz live in front of a crowd of retailers and show exhibitors, asking questions about how Ace retailers can learn from Starbucks’ accomplishments.

Employees Are Key

Valuing employees so they embrace a company’s culture and standards is imperative for success, Schultz said during the interview.

Staff members need to find purpose in their work and feel important to their company, he says. Starbucks’ employees thrive because they are carefully hired, trained, treated as valuable and encouraged to serve their communities, Schultz says.

“They like to think of themselves as the local force for good,” he says.

Starbucks is intent on having every employee buy into the goal of offering human connection and in-store experiences that go beyond what customers expect, he says.

“Everything we do is experiential,” Schultz says. “We have to exceed the expectations of our people so they can exceed the expectations of our customers.”

Employees who don’t consistently behave in accord with the company’s values damage customer experiences, harming the company overall, he says.

“That is a cancer because that is going to be repeated by others,” Schultz says.

Venhuizen asked Schultz to apply Starbucks’ ideals for customer experiences to hardware stores where customers show up to find solutions for problems, not primarily to enjoy the environment.

“Humans are longing for human experiences,” Schultz says. “That means every employee interaction must impress the customer, he says.

He emphasized the importance of making each visit to an Ace location memorable.

“Shoppers need to walk away saying, ‘I just went to Ace Hardware and you won’t believe what happened to me,'” Schultz says.

Venhuizen told Hardware Retailing that though Schutlz’s perspective comes from leading a public company, his advice applies to the experiential retail that independent home improvement stores need to offer.

“It’s still intensely relational. Local relationships are important,” Venhuizen says. “It can’t just be a transactional event.”

Joel Providence

From the Show Floor

Relationships and in-store experiences were also important to retailers who were on the show floor meeting with other business owners and looking for products to take back to their operations.

Meeting with other store operators is particularly important at an Ace convention, according to Don King, store manager of Kopetsky’s Ace Hardware in Orange City, Iowa.

“It’s nice when you talk to other retailers and learn what they’re doing right so you can take it back to your store and implement some of it,” he says.

Joel Providence, CEO of three home improvement stores in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, was looking for products at the show that can create new experiences for customers.

Green energy and home security technology are categories that attract shoppers who aren’t necessarily DIYers and make the in-store experience more interactive, Providence says.

Don King

“They add a new dimension,” he says. “They’re talking points that bring people to the store.”

New Products

Learning what’s new and innovative in retailing practices and home improvement products was also key for convention attendees.

Being at the show allowed King to talk to vendors and learn about products he wouldn’t have heard about otherwise, he says.

Joanne Holliday with McAuliffe’s Ace Hardware in Marysville, Ohio, says that Ace shows help her business stay current on trending products and pay attention to innovations in retail.  

“You have to adapt,” she says.

About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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