Ace Hardware is the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the world with more than 5,200 locally owned and operated hardware stores in approximately 65 countries, and it won’t be wrong if you asked “which Ace Hardware store is near me”?
In this article, we will mention the Ace Hardware locations near you, how they compare to home depot and what is their competitive advantage.
Founded in 1924 as “Ace Stores”, the company changed its name to “Ace Hardware Corporation” in 1931. It grew dramatically following World War II, more than tripling its sales between the late 1940s and 1959.
After the retirement of longtime president and founder Richard Hesse in 1973, Ace was sold to its retailers, becoming a retailer-owned cooperative. It first reached $1 billion in wholesale sales in 1985 and $5 billion in 2015.
Many companies use mystery shoppers in their stores, but what makes Ace Hardware different is that the stores are independently owned, yet they agree to be mystery shopped by the corporate cooperative that supplies their merchandise.
Ace corporate has created stringent standards their retailers must meet to earn the designation of “Certified Ace Helpful.”
2. They are Easy to Do Business With.
The Ace Hardware stores are smaller, and that can work to their advantage. While they may not have the largest variety or even the lowest prices, they can compete with convenience.
Driving through the parking lot is easier. Navigating through the store doesn’t mean a quarter-mile walk from one side of the store to the other.
There seems to be more staff to help the customers than in the typical hardware or big box store. Overall, it’s just an easier experience.
3. They Engage their Customers
This is more than a friendly greeting. Instead of a traditional greeting like, “Hello, how are you today?” the Ace Associates are taught to ask, “What can I help you find today?”
And, when they find out, they don’t just point the customer in the right direction, they walk the customer to the item. Then, to take the experience to a higher level, they start a conversation to learn more about why the customer needs the item and how it will be used.
4. Knowledgeable Staff
While the same might be said about the competition, Ace associates are taught to use their knowledge in a different way.
As they engage with customers and help them find the items they are seeking, they ask appropriate questions that give them the opportunity to help the customer by making suggestions that might make the project easier and even less expensive.
5. Friendly Service & Helpful
You may have noticed a common thread in several of the items above, and it is what Ace is known for – helping, or being helpful. Engaging the customer is friendly.
But, Ace takes it a step further, always making suggestions that help the customer. It is in Ace’s corporate DNA to be the most helpful hardware store on the planet. Helpful is their ultimate competitive advantage.
When you look at Ace Hardware vs Home Depot in terms of company size you find some surprising things.
For one, while The Home Depot has 2,200 stores, Ace Hardware actually has some 5,000 worldwide. So is Ace Hardware actually larger than Home Depot?
Ace Hardware stores come in many sizes—each very different from the others. They also tend to be much smaller in size compared to the average Home Depot. Conversely, most Home Depot stores have a minimum amount of square footage (around 105,000 sq. ft.).
With Ace Hardware stores averaging around 30,000 square feet, that means it would take roughly 3X the number of Ace Hardware stores to match Home Depot’s numbers.
Do some quick math, and you see that Home Depot has somewhere in the neighborhood of 231 million square feet of retail space while Ace Hardware has around 150 million.
2. Ace Hardware: The Helpful Place
Ace Hardware bills itself as “the helpful hardware place.” As such, they focus more on repair and maintenance rather than renovation. Conversely, Home Depot and Lowe’s include large lumber, roofing, trim, and siding supply areas where customers can load up pallets worth of materials.
Want to get help and advice with your plumbing project? You might luck out and get someone at Home Depot who knows what they’re talking about.
More than likely, however, you’ll find someone who can merely point you in the right direction.
If you need to get more detailed help, I’ve found that Ace Hardware tends to have much more skilled employees on staff. It may be the structure of how they run their business, or it may be the smaller store size.
In either case, I’ve tended—in my town at least—to get better advice from Ace Hardware stores. That may be worth spending a little extra.
3. Corporate Structure
A key difference when looking at Ace Hardware vs Home Depot includes the fact that Ace Hardware uses franchises. Compare that to The Home Depot where each store is corporate-owned.
This gives Ace the ability to be more responsive to a community’s needs than their big-box ‘one-business-model-fits-all’ rivals.
In our town, that means Ace Hardware can carry the replacement parts more likely to be needed in a 1920’s bungalow home or a Florida 1950’s blockhouse.
When people come in repeatedly looking for a particular part, you can bet Ace will locate it and get them in so future customers don’t need to special order them.
I’ve personally seen this with parts for toilets, antique locks and hinges, air conditioner parts, ballasts, and more.
Ace is opening 6 more stores in the next 6 months with 8 total to be opened in the next 2 years. This would give Ace a total of 54 stores just in the metro Atlanta area.
This rapid growth in Home Depot’s backyard is attributed to the high availability of retail space and the economy.
4. Power Tool Brands
Another huge differentiator between Home Depot and Ace Hardware comes down to the tool brands represented. With less retail space, Ace cannot carry nearly the amount of brands as Home Depot.
That leads to picking strategic partners. As far as we can tell in our area, here are the key power tool brands present in each physical store:
Ace Hardware Tool Brands
Black and Decker
Home Depot Tool Brands
Black + Decker
Ridgid Power Tools
We feel the need to mention, however, that both Home Depot and Ace Hardware allow free “ship-to-store” options which greatly expand the number of brands and products available at each.
Still, the ability to walk in and get what you want immediately makes a big difference when comparing Ace Hardware vs Home Depot.
5. Home Renovation Vs Home Preservation
Home Depot tends to focus on home renovation. Ace leans more towards home preservation. When the economy slows, people’s wallets tend to get tighter.
Rather than gutting and redoing a bathroom, they look to fix or enhance it. The fact that the stores are franchised rather than corporate plays to these strengths as well.
While Home Depot (and Lowe’s for that matter) follow a regional strategy, each Ace franchisee can tailor their store to the particular flavor of their community.
If people in the community are interested primarily in outdoor activities and projects, they can stock more of those. If it is a coastal or mountainous region, their inventory can reflect that.
Starting a franchise is no small matter, however, with a required net worth of $400,000 and $250,000 in cash. Startup fees can reach a cool million dollars. Each store can carry upwards of 20,000 products.
6. Lumber and Building Materials
If you want or need lumber or building materials, you really end up going to The Home Depot. While Ace certainly has PVC piping, fixtures, and a selection of materials, The Home Depot crushes them on volume and options.
In many instances, you simply cannot get either the materials or the quantities you might need at an Ace Hardware store. They don’t have the space to handle that kind of volume.
As such, The Home Depot remains the choice for Pros when they need something on the fly to complete a job, while Ace Hardware remains a great pace for picking up those smaller pieces you need for landscaping, painting a room, a doing a plumbing or electrical repair.