Best New Store Under 20,000 sq. ft. — Ace Hardware of Clarkston
Ace Hardware of Clarkston, Clarkston, Mich.
Jason and Melanie Haley took an abandoned hardware store site and transformed it into a thriving 13,500-square-foot hardware store in their hometown of Clarkston, Mich. Opening in October 2016, Ace Hardware of Clarkston finished the first year at 167 percent of its Ace sales forecast and sales were up 29 percent for the first half of year two.
The Haleys made major capital investments in the facility including a new entrance, new checkouts, extended fixtures, barnwood accents on the walls, partially polished concrete floor, completely new restrooms and new LED lights.
They lit the store brightly and made the aisles a little wider and raised the perimeter racking to 12 feet to demonstrate their substantial depth of inventory.
“We deliberately changed the layout and put tall fixtures on the wall and filled them with inventory, we changed the doors, we changed the uniforms and we screamed from the rooftop that we are new, local owners—your neighbors,” says Jason. “We had to convince the community of three things: we have plenty of inventory, we are local and care, and that this is truly a rebirth of an icon. It worked.”
The top categories are niches such as gift and home decor, chalk and decorative painting, fasteners and grills. Melanie’s instincts in the gift area led to over $100,000 in sales the first year.
“I started small and we’re adding all the time. I shopped local to see what’s out there and went in a different direction, buying from over 50 vendors,” she says, adding that they plan to expand the gift and home area in the near future.
“We have a one plus one equals five theory in our business,” Jason says. “We have an amazing gift and home decor area, we have a killer grill and outdoor niche, we have the largest fastener selection in the area and we are experts in chalk and decorative painting.”
He adds, “We think, like a recipe, that it is a combination of these special offerings that create a destination and image that is much greater than just adding up the individual parts.”
Grilling has exploded into a year-round category that ranks second among all categories, with year-to-date sales up 99 percent. “We will sell, assemble and deliver over 350 large grills this year. It does not go unnoticed that it’s usually the owner and his sons delivering their grill, and you learn a lot about a customer when you sell and deliver a grill,” Jason says.
Neighbors Serving Neighbors
Melanie is an Air Force veteran who had been a stay-at-home mom, and it was her idea to come up with the “Neighbors Serving Neighbors” slogan that has resonated so well with their customer base. “People are craving locally owned businesses,” Melanie points out.
“Neighbors Serving Neighbors goes big and small—from raising cash and donating our own for the family of a sheriff’s deputy who was killed this past fall in the line of duty to going to an elderly customer’s house and covering her patio furniture because her husband is no longer able,” explains Jason.
The Haleys say they are focused on working less in the business and more in the community. They have a community room for workshops, but it’s been turned into a gift stock room. “What makes us unique is we’re available and we’re here all the time. We both have a spirit for helping,” says Melanie.
Adds Jason, “We are the only locally owned hardware option in our market, so we can be very flexible in what we sell, how we staff, what we do for the community and in the services we provide. The community shapes our store and makes it their store.”
Offering excellent customer service is one of their most important goals. “We empower our team to do whatever it takes to satisfy a neighbor,” Melanie says. “All our employees know if they’re not with a customer they should be greeting customers as they come in.”
The store’s team ranges in age from 15 to nearly 80, and the Haleys have created a culture of teaching one another through shadowing. As Jason points out, “Our rule is simple: if you cannot help a customer, then you get someone who can and then shadow them to learn one on one from another experienced associate.”
Associates are empowered to do whatever it takes to satisfy a neighbor. For example, if a customer is buying a large fire ring and realizes it won’t fit in their car, employees know it’s OK to just take it to the customer’s home.
Jason adds, “As owners we work in the store nearly every day. We have radios on, are often out on the floor setting the example of how we treat our neighbors and we coach our team continuously.”
Building on the Ace Brand
The Haleys’ viewpoint is that Ace provides the branding and marketing to get folks in the door and it is their job to give them an amazing experience and keep them coming back.
“We have no doubt that the Ace brand has been critical to our success,” says Jason. “The best brands approach from Ace has set us apart, as it not only draws traffic but has a halo effect of quality around everything else.”
He adds, “Ace has some great tools from training and scheduling to merchandise reset programs that make it easier to let them do the heavy lifting and we just execute. Our goal is to make our customers raving Ace fans and keep them coming back instead of going to the boxes.”
Social media has been a key tool to promote their new store. “Anytime you can interject quirky and fun people respond to it,” says Melanie, who notes that their Halloween pet costume on Facebook went viral with more than 50,000 hits.
Winning the Beacon Award is a great honor, according to Jason. “We subscribe to the theory that ‘iron sharpens iron.’ The more we push each other in this industry, we all get better and we all win,” he says.