Venhuizen elaborates on Ace's vision

Speaking out on distribution, digital competition and daily leadership in a complex world

Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen

Chicago -- Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen was relatively quiet during the co-op's General Session here at McCormick Place last week. The reason: He was happy to cede his time to General Stanley McChrystal, the session's keynote speaker.

But Venhuizen spoke with HBSDealer on a wide range of distribution and retail topics during the Ace Convention and Exhibits. Here are some edited talking points:

On Emery Jensen Distribution.

"We are going to continue to build out to operate as one national company, but we are still three today. It's the tale of three companies. Jensen and Emery on the coasts continue to operate with a great deal of autonomy and are growing better and faster than we thought. We're still building out EJD. We're laying the foudations. So far, they're up 8% year to date, and that's not bad.

"Distribution is a difficult, low-margin, capital-intensive business. It's not very sexy. To be good at it, you have to have scale. [Emery and Jensen] add depth to what we have to be great in. That is going to be fundamental to us forever.

On keynote speaker General Stanley McChrystal
"I don't mean to compare the stakes of our battles to his, but the lessons are the same. A new terrifying complex and unique enemy is something he had to respond to, and that's what we face. Whether you're thinking of digital retailers or deal sites or other new players, they force us to think about the competitor and the enemies in different ways. And what I so love about the general's message is the idea of operating as a team of teams. It doesn't matter if you're in a distribution center or a store, we're one team. "

On improvements to Ace.com
"There are three things. First, we want our web sites to feel more local, so that when you go to Ace.com, it doesn't feel like a corporate site. Second is search engine optimization. A lot of people pay for words on Google, we do too. But the real win is when your site naturally comes into searches. Our performance here is OK, but it needs to be great. And third, We intend to integrate more to the local store, adding local pricing that is specific to that store."

On branding
"The goal of all our branding efforts, is to have woven together locally embraced entrepreneurs, coupled with a globally trusted brand."

On competition from Amazon
"If someone does $600 million in one day, they are your competitor. They're pretty good at what they do. They're becoming everyone's competition in almost every category to some degree. But we will go to our grave defending the idea that the local store with actual people serving their neighbors has got to be relevant. We have human beings with empathy -- you can't capture that on a computer."

On the company's second-quarter earnings report
"We're not going to hurt our shoulders giving ourselves pats on the back. Our growth was solid [including record sales]. But we expect more and we can do better. And our stores are working too hard to settle for modest."
 

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