Chicago -- Maya Schultz has an eye for product innovation, as well as a good sense of humor. When the Ace Hardware product innovation merchant was asked why the innovation area was all the way in the back of the convention center during the Ace Hardware Convention Aug. 17-19, she had a good answer: “We’re like the milk in the grocery store,” she said.
Innovative products are more than just a traffic generator – they’re increasingly viewed by Ace and other retailers as a key pillar in a “differentiate or die” approach to business.
Finding new products, helping stores differentiate, and filling a role at the intersection of technology and home improvement – “That’s where the Ace helpful comes in,” she said.
Schultz sees a wide variety of new products in her role as innovation merchant for Ace, and also as the point person in Ace’s partnership with The Grommet, where the slogan is: “Discover What’s Next.” From fancy colognes “for the first-class man” to Go Girl reusable female urination devices, the Grommet platform has launched 2,500 products in 16 categories since its inception in 2008. The Grommet’s partnership with Ace was launched last year.
Next door to the Grommet booth on the show floor, the Ace Innovation Department showcased an equally wide range of cool products. (See slideshow, above.) Where does she get her ideas? Anywhere she can, she says, including Eureka Park at the Consumer Electronics Show, and from the shelves Ace’s own retailers. (Yeti was a retailer discovery, she said.)
Ace is also promoting innovation with a contest for inventors. The co-op’s Maker to Market program promises a free booth at the co-op’s Spring Convention in Dallas to the “maker” who makes the best pitch to a panel of industry judges. Already 54, makers have signed up to share their ideas.