In 1945, Ethan Proctor sold a farm and general store in Georgia and bought Dickinson Hardware in Jacksonsville Beach, Fla., which dated back to 1936. Affiliated with Ace since 1964 as the first Ace store in Florida, Proctor Ace Hardware has grown to three locations in the Jacksonville area under the current leadership of brothers Steve and Joe Proctor and Lizz Proctor.
Tommy and Joey Proctor represent the fourth generation of the family involved in the business, which is enjoying a year-to-date sales increase of 12.3 percent.
The Proctors are progressive and aggressive retailers, constantly remerchandising and changing their stores to meet the needs of their customers and to stay ahead of retail trends. The Neptune Beach location was honored by Ace Hardware with a 2018 Coolest Hardware Store award during the Ace Pinnacle Conference in Las Vegas.
The Neptune Beach location moved to its fifth location in 2015 with a 23,600-square-foot ground-up store plus a 4,700-square-foot garden center. Sales have increased over 20 percent each year since.
The Jacksonville store, which opened in 1975, is known for its large garden center staffed by knowledgeable associates. The Proctors did a complete interior remodel of this location in 2017, leading to a sales increase of over 20 percent.
The third location in Ponte Vedra opened in 1990 and moved to its current, larger location in 1999. It was the first location to add a Floral Emporium Florist to the hardware mix. This store recently underwent major interior and exterior projects and 2017 marked the third straight year of double-digit sales increases.
In explaining what makes their stores unique, Steve says, “We customize assortments to the local community, offer outstanding customer service that can’t be beat and feature premium brands in every department that customers can’t get anywhere else.”
The localized product mix includes custom made signs and beachy products, coastal decor, import pottery, skateboards, hot sauces, coastal doormats, Simply Southern and Guy Harvey clothing, fishing knives and patio furniture.
The most important niche is plants, because everyone who buys plants also buys garden tools, soil, planters, gloves and other items. “The boxes concentrate on price, so we concentrate on quality,” says Steve.
Other major niches include STIHL outdoor power equipment, YETI, Weber and Big Green Egg grills, fishing and boating department, giftware and outdoor coastal furniture.
The large garden centers are converted into a Winter Wonderland for Christmas goods. A thousand live Christmas trees are sold yearly at the large Christmas tree lot.
They changed the traffic flow at checkout with a next-in-line system with five checkout stations and a well-stocked impulse area that engages people and has led to a significant increase in impulse sales.
The Proctors know the value of training and utilize all Ace tools available, including the Ace Learning Place, EMS management classes and outside vendor training for their unique product lines. They have a training coordinator and maintain training logs at each store. Monthly mystery shops and customer engagement surveys are fully utilized and monitored to ensure the stores maintain a Pinnacle level of achievement. All managers and associates are eligible for significant bonuses, but only if their store achieves platinum level with Ace.
The Proctors are active members of the community where they live and work, sponsoring everything from Habitat for Humanity and Community Garden to Beach Bike Rack project and the Rotary U.S. Flag project. They cook on demo grills every weekend to further engage their customer base.
“We sponsor events all the time,” Steve says. “We’ll let a group have a car wash and let kids earn money while encouraging people to come to our store. We had a project to do a community garden and got a vendor to pay for the irrigation system and got a local contractor to install it for free.”
The Proctor family has always operated with a simple premise: stock everything and have enough inventory of everything. They also offer services that can’t be found elsewhere, like rescreening, rekeying locks, spooling fishing reels and cutting anything by the piece. As Steve says, “Customers know if anything is broken, we will fix it or tell them it’s not fixable. And we don’t make them wait.”
“Ace has been a great partner,” says Steve. “They give us merchandising, advertising, signage and guidance, and help us measure our customer service. We go over once a month how we’re doing compared to our peer group. You can improve performance if you measure and reward for it.”
Adds Steve, “We’re honored to even be considered for the Beacon Award. It helps validate the hard work that everyone does.”