By Chris Jensen
Dealing with a pandemic is especially challenging when you operate nine stores in nine distinct California communities. However, Miner’s Ace Hardware—which has been operated by the Miner family since 1956—has found a way to shine while in the midst of an expansion project that is doubling the size of its Los Osos store.
“We have families who have shopped our stores for generations. Miner’s is a local fixture and part of the neighborhoods and communities it serves. Our mission is to be a place where employees want to work and customers want to shop and we take this very seriously,” explains President Paul Filice, whose father-in-law Mike Miner is a second-generation co-owner. “In fact, we still have our first employee we hired working in our hardware department—Wally Lewis has been a part of the team for over 62 years,” he adds.
With hardware stores deemed essential, Miner’s Ace quickly discovered customers were using the time during the shutdown to work on home projects such as painting, planting gardens and organizing garages. “We experienced both an increase in customer count and average ticket,” Filice says.
OPEN AND HERE TO HELP
When the coronavirus hit, Filice’s first thought was how to remain safe with nearly 500 employees spread across nine store locations. “We allocated all our stock of cleaning supplies, wipes, hand sanitizer and other PPE to our teams in order to remain open. Second, we allowed our staff to purchase any product we had before it hit the sales floor. Any time we receive essential product the business took what it needed to remain safe and open, then the employees had a chance to get what they wanted, then we reached out to local hospitals and eventually schools,” he points out.
Filice adds, “We communicated, ‘We are open and here to help’ early in the shutdown when there was so much uncertainty regarding who was open and at what capacity they were operating.”
Within a day or two they had giant banners up with their “here to help” message along with emails, social media posts and print ads. Customers responded with messages of gratitude on Facebook.
“We realized that in this time of isolation people needed to still feel connected—our nursery, associates and stores were able to provide this for our customers and community,” Filice says.
All Miner’s Ace stores adopted a long list of safety measures designed to keep employees and customers safe. One employee was stationed at the front entrance offering masks and cleaning/collecting carts, beside a large sign that noted face coverings were required. Plexiglass shields were installed at every register and help desk. Social distance and directional floor stickers were put in place, with hand sanitizer near the entrance, at work stations like the paint desk and at each register.
In addition to requiring all employees to wear face masks and cleaning/disinfecting high-touch surfaces throughout the day, Miner’s Ace enforced queueing when its stores hit their safe social shopping capacity. Introducing curbside pickup service also helped them manage in-store customer traffic.
Keeping up staff morale has been a constant goal since the beginning. “We have worked hard to let our team know we appreciate their hard work and dedication. We have lunches delivered to the stores and have provided ‘Hero Pay’ to staff,” says Filice.
Miner’s Ace has monthly prizes and parties the stores throw for their staff. “Every year we have a giant company picnic, but this year we had to cancel the event. In lieu of the party, we are going to have lunch delivered to the stores along with a company t-shirt, hat, backpack and some other swag to celebrate our team,” he points out.
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
Once the pandemic hit, Miner’s made a shift in its community service initiatives and focused on the needs of students as they entered into a period of distance learning. They donated $30,000 to local schools to buy tablets and mobile hot spots for students in need.
“We are all active in many parts of the community, serving on boards, coaching sports teams, involved in PTO/PTA associations and Rotary. It’s what makes small town America a great place to raise a family and wonderful spot for a hardware store,” Filice says.
Safety masks became very hard to get, if not impossible. “We were a bit surprised when some of our B2B customers that were medical facilities were asking if we could supply them. This is when we started to realize the situation was a bit desperate. We were able to get several large shipments secured. Once they came in, we became a source for our local medical community. We made several large mask donations to local hospitals and medical facilities from our supply,” he says.
As the shutdown dragged on, Filice says they became aware how lucky they were to be deemed essential. Restaurants in particular were hit hard. “We ran a couple of different promotions on our social media in which we purchased $100 gift cards to local restaurants. We asked our customers to let us know what their local favorite restaurant was in hopes we could help start a conversation that would highlight local restaurants,” he says. “It was a big success. The local restaurants were extremely grateful for both the promotion they got online and the gift card purchases.”
A local farm, Talley Farms, reached out to Miner’s as they were developing a local harvest box program and wished for their stores to be a pickup site. “We went from a few boxes a week per store to hundreds of boxes, with some stores needing to have pickups on two different days,” he says. “Not everyone that picks up their harvest box makes a purchase, but some do, and it is a great way to get people to walk our store, see our displays and product.”
Filice adds, “We are humbled to be recognized with a Beacon Award. Community involvement has been part of our recipe for years. ‘Give back to the community that enables our success’ is one of our core values and something that our business and family take seriously.”