A year shy of joining the Century Club, Ace Hardware is poised to step into 2024 with an enhanced lawn and garden program called Yard Rx. Ace CEO John Venhuizen shared the framework of the new, customizable lawn and garden program at the Fall 2023 Convention in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 19-21.
As part of his remarks during the opening general session, Venhuizen described how current lawn and garden sales are dependent on weather and that lawn and garden products—such as Scotts which are also sold at big box stores—don’t offer enough differentiation in the marketplace. The Ace Yard Rx program will be a custom shopping experience, delivering lawn and garden products based on customers specific lawncare and gardening needs, according to Venhuizen. In the spring, the program will provide customers a discounted, initial bulk purchase of lawn and garden products, then throughout the season additional products can be delivered as needed.
Venhuizen drew the parallel between Yard Rx’s service-oriented approach to how offering grill assembly increased grill sales. Such a service could potentially mean customers would spend seven times more on lawn and garden products in an Ace store, according to Venhuizen.
Building Trust with Retailers, Customers
The theme of Venhuizen’s opening remarks centered around the importance of trust and promises.
“Our brand stands as a beacon of hope to make and keep promises,” Venhuizen said.
He touted Ace as earning the highest overall satisfaction index score among major home improvement retailers in the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction study.
Venhuizen offered retailers three promises as Ace prepares to turn 100 years old: Increase relevance to customers, improve economics for owners and create an irresistible value proposition for customers and employees.
To fulfill these promises, Venhuizen said Ace will aggressively pursue enhanced digital marketing. He called digital marketing “an escalator to success” and said that Ace has underinvested in SEO. Venhuizen shared how Ace’s Digital Plus program has paid off this past year: In 2023, Ace spent $9.5 million on the program, which has led to a 90 percent increase in consumer spending at Ace stores, according to Venhuizen.
Ace Version of Geek Squad
Citing the growing “do-it-for-me” demand, the Ace CEO also shared a proposed new program called Ace Home Services, which would offer home repairs, installation and other services related to products sold in Ace stores. Likening the program to Geek Squad in Best Buy stores, Venhuizen envisioned Ace work trucks providing home installation for a variety of products, including HVAC units and appliances.
In addition to tapping into the increasing do-it-for-me trend, the Ace Home Services program would also be a conduit for good-paying jobs for those who wanted an alternative career path that doesn’t require a college degree.
Mike Rowe Entertained, Informed with Stories
After Venhuizen’s opening remarks, the Ace convention-goers welcomed Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs and founder of mikeroweWORKS Foundation. During a question-and-answer session with Kane Calamari, Ace’s Senior Vice President – Chief Human Resources Office, Rowe shared how his family influenced his work ethic and led him to become a celebrity reality TV show host.
During his comments, Rowe echoed Venhuizen’s theme of trust when describing his success. “I make modest promises and when a promise is made, it’s a promise kept.”
While describing how his life and career path led him to create 179 episodes of Dirty Jobs, Rowe mentioned that he got his start as an opera singer. With a little encouragement from Calamari and the crowd, Rowe sang a few bars of opera for the Ace retailers.
Outdoor Emphasis for Product Displays
On the bustling floor of the Orlando Convention center, retailers could see Ace’s emphasis on lawn and garden products in a space called The Greenhouse. This area featured lawn and garden vendors such as Real Wood Products from Eugene, Ore.
The Convention included 70 new vendors along with an outdoor grilling demo area, which offered many free samples.