Ace Convention sees boost in attendance
The 2011 Ace Hardware Spring Convention and Exhibits held last week in Chicago saw a significant boost in attendance from the two previous years, according to the Oak Brook, Ill.-based hardware co-op.
Retailer attendance was up 36% compared with Ace’s previous spring show in New Orleans. The Chicago event also posted a 17% increase in attendance compared with the spring show held two years ago in Las Vegas.
Total convention attendance in Chicago topped out at about 15,000, according to Ace.
The next convention for Ace will be held in Denver Oct. 15 to 17.
Once more with feeling: Ace promotes Craftsman
Chicago — With a view toward driving profitable sales, Ace VP merchandising John Surane pointed to some merchandise initiatives, regional wins and corporate strategies during the co-op’s 2011 Ace Convention and Exhibits.
One of the brightest merchandising spots was the Craftsman tools brand. Back in February 2010, Ace and Sears announced a partnership that opened the way for Ace retailers to sell the Sears-owned Craftsman brand.
"We have enough numbers in the bank now to know that this is working," Surane said. He said the tools category has seen 20% sales growth, 9% transactions growth and 9% gross profit growth for those roughly 500 stores participating in Craftsman programs.
Some 500 stores are already participating in the Craftsman program, and the company projects a rollout of 900 in 2011. But there’s no reason that number couldn’t be much higher, he said.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we’re back in the tool business, with Craftsman," Surane said.
And to make it easier for smaller stores to participate, the Craftsman booth was showing off its latest program — a Craftsman merchandise program designed for the needs of smaller stores.
Surane pointed to some regional wins — including a member who introduced the Bird Niche and recognized category sales gains of more than 100% in the first 120 days. The Bird Niche program is 48 linear feet and 800 sq. ft. of floor space. Ace’s Wild Bird Food is No. 1 in sales, No. 1 in transactions and No. 3 in profit as a "Red Hot Buy" at the show.
One of the keys to profitable sales is cost of goods, and Surane offered a commitment on behalf of the co-op: "We will compete and dominate this area," he said.
Ace CEO sees positive signs in economy
Chicago — Ace Hardware Corp. CEO Ray Griffith pointed to some positive metrics that should give encouragement to hardware retailers in 2011.
Speaking during the opening general session during the Ace Convention & Exhibits here in Chicago, he said across Ace, same-store sales at retail in the month of February were up an impressive 5.8% over last year. Transactions increased "an equally impressive" 3.6%, he said.
"We have not seen that kind of increase in over 47 months — not since February 2007," he said.
While housing starts and new-home sales continue to languish at or near-historic lows, other macroeconomic factors support optimism for hardware stores. Griffith pointed to February consumer confidence as the highest in almost three years. The International Council of Shopping Centers retail sales increased 4.2% in February.
And almost as if on cue, the nation’s unemployment rate for March slipped a tenth of a percentage point on Friday to 8.8%, down from 8.9% in February.
"Consumers do seem to be spending more freely than a year ago," he said. "Obviously it’s too early in 2011 to get overly confident about sales, but it has the feel of a much better year."
His advice to retailers: Take advantage of the economic upswing, but be prepared to act quickly in response to change.