Ace Hardware convenes in Texas

Dealers understand their specialness at the Ace Spring Convention in San Antonio.
Greg Phelps owner Mt. Airy Ace
Greg Phelps, on right, owner of Mt. Airy Maryland Ace Hardware, with his two team members.

The Ace spring show happening now in Texas feels sorta like a family affair.

People talk to you as soon as you say howdy.

“Our biggest seller is paint,” said Greg Phelps, owner of Mt. Airy Maryland Ace Hardware,” then he paused and said, “oh, and Stihl chain saws. Big.”

He and his team were three among thousands of Ace dealers attending the Ace spring show, looking for ideas, deals and anything helpful to their stores.

The feeling carried along the aisles in an expansive convention hall, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Center, in San Antonio.

Those attendees not taking in the warm southwestern breezes coming over the famed River Walk in downtown San Antonio, enjoyed their own spring-fling at the show.

At the far end of the convention center, near the Retail Center Training stage, Marty Warnke, GM of Palm Springs Ace, and his team member Clint Berger, operations manager, talked about what they were looking for: “Everything really,” Warnke laughed.

“But in Palm Springs, we do 20% of our business in patios, everyone seemingly has a pool in our community, so that’s who we serve, that’s really our specialty, what makes us special.”

That word “special” seemed to reverberate. It spoke to the theme of the Ace keynote earlier in the morning.

Ace spring show 2023 overhead
Ace dealers roll into the convention center in San Antonio, the first time Ace has held a show in this city.

Andy Enright, VP retail development and strategy said, “tell your special story. Tell it to potential employees.”

His message included these words: Don’t pull inventory. Stay stocked up. “More inventory means more sales.”

He told a packed house in San Antonio – the first time Ace has ever held a convention here – to “play offense with inventory.”

The VP also related a message from a successful Ace dealer in Eagle River, Wisconsin, that inventory is both protecting market share and a part of customer service. “They have to have everything their customers need,” he said.

In the “what’s new” department, speaker Brian Wiborg, SVP merchandising said, “Ace brands are growing fast; our outdoor segment has doubled since 2018. To emphasize that, we’re announcing an expanded relationship with Stihl.”

Marty Warnke Palm Springs Ace
Marty Warnke, GM of Palm Springs Ace, and his team member Clint Berger, operations manager enjoying the Ace spring show.

The SVP added, “Our goal is to become famous for outdoor power equipment.”

John Venhuizen, president and CEO of Ace Hardware later took the stage and delivered a simple yet profound message to dealers: “Be resilient. Owners are families with their life savings on the line. Ace owners are humble, hungry and smart,” and called Ace Hardware “the hope” of the hardware business.

Later in the afternoon, one attendee, a hardware owner who traveled all the way from New Zealand and has been coming to these shows for 10 years, stopped to share an opinion in the wide main aisle of the show floor.

“I come to the Ace Hardware show to see what’s new, and get out in front of the curve, it’s that simple,” he said.

Lots of Ace dealers and guests walked the show floor. There was a mix of music, the noise of equipment tool demos, and the sounds of friendly meetups, laughter and upbeat discussions.

The morning’s keynote message, “Play offense, Ace team,” from Enright seemed in full play. “The ownership of Ace is you.”

At the conclusion of the morning keynote, as the big crowd moved out of the auditorium toward the show floor, a dealer could be overheard in the crowd saying to another, “I was moved by it.”

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