Ace Hardware retailers had the opportunity to connect and network, discover new products and take part in educational sessions at the Ace Spring 2022 Convention, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event marked the second time Ace retailers had been able to get together in person since the start of the pandemic and followed in the wake of a successful fall market last year.
Reviewing the Year
The convention opened with the general session, led by president and CEO John Venhuizen, who shared highlights from the past year, including adding 4.3 million new customers and opening 182 new stores in the U.S. The company recorded $8.6 billion in total revenue and $330 million in net income, both records for the company.
“Our pipeline for new stores in the U.S. is bigger than we’ve ever seen; really, the only impediment is the global supply chain issues,” he says. “We anticipate doing as much or more as we did last year. It’s early, but the pipeline is very robust.”
Venhuizen shared that the company gave over $80 million in retail loans to fuel growth, expansions, new buildings and other store initiatives, and it plans to increase distribution by 30 percent in the next three years.
“Ace continues to show value of ownership for retailers with access to a world-class brand, differentiated products, powerful retail tools, massive autonomy and financial return,” Venhuizen says. “I’m ever so grateful to be a part of this special thing we have going. Thank you for making Ace an incredibly special place.”
Managing Pain Points
Supply chain issues continue to plague the industry, and while Ace Hardware hasn’t been immune to the struggles, Venhuizen says the merchant team has put Ace retailers in a good position relatively speaking. The company’s merchant team has been aggressive with orders to keep items in stock, has worked hard to provide choices and has put in the extra time and effort to avoid stockouts.
“Aggressiveness is key when ordering product; if a vendor has it, we’re ordering it. Our merchant team has also done a great job scouring the earth to find other options for consumers,” Venhuizen says. “I’m also really proud of our retailers. They don’t take the supply chain issues laying down, they find a way and make it work for the consumer.”
Hiring woes and inflation have been additional pain points for retailers. Venhuizen says there is not much individual store owners can do about inflation, and there is no one answer to hiring struggles.
“There’s really no silver bullet to solve hiring issues, and while it’s not perfect, the Ace way of retailing includes numerous paths, from recruiting to onboarding to development, that offer hiring tools and resources for retailers along every step,” he says. “Local owners can also use their store and community culture to their advantage to recruit and retain employees. When store owners are capable of executing on the basic tools we offer them, their culture is what will help bring in and retain good workers.”
Looking to the Future
After sharing how the company performed, Venhuizen then turned his focus to the future in the general session. In 2024, Ace Hardware will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and the company has set a goal of reaching $10 billion in corporate revenue and $25 billion in retail revenue by its 100th anniversary.
“While we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, especially in the last two record-breaking years, we’re not under the false pretense that what got us here will continue to take us through the next 100 years,” he says. “Instead, we will use this significant milestone to further energize and grow.”
Venhuizen says the pandemic exposed four opportunities through the lens of a consumer that the company can capitalize on moving forward. These opportunities include offering experiential retail, elegant digital operations, service with substance and in-home services.
“The expectations of our consumers demand our constant attention and passionate pursuit, even when it’s hard,” he says. “But what we are doing is worthwhile. We want to make Ace as relevant for the next 100 years as it’s been for the last 100 years.”
Buying and Networking
Out on the show floor, attendees could browse products and talk with vendors and manufacturers. An outdoor area was set up for grilling and barbecue demonstrations, and Ace offered a Retail Training Center with retailer panels and speakers covering topics from implementing Labor Force Optimization to thriving in B2B to social media trends.
Retailers were excited to be back at another in-person event to take advantage of networking opportunities and discover new products.
Chantelle Burris and Amanda Jones-Rogers from Mukilteo Ace Hardware in Mukilteo, Washington, searched for new products and impulse buys, especially products that would appeal to a female audience, as women are a big part of their store’s audience.
Weiders Hardware owner Ned Green says he was looking mostly at services at this show, as his three stores have been moving products faster than he can get them in.
Attending her second convention, Samantha Pavich, human resources and marketing specialist for Ninth Avenue Hardware, appreciated the opportunities to speak with other retailers and collaborate on problems.
“Ace is great to help us work through common issues, but we don’t expect them to fix every problem,” she says. “So, it’s great that the Ace community is so open about what works and what doesn’t and willing to help each other out.”