In Dallas, it’s Ace vs. Amazon
Dallas — In an increasingly Amazonian retail world, Ace Hardware executives hammered on the power and potential of the independent hardware store and their “red-vested heroes.” But there are a lot of challenges that independent stores must conquer to thrive in the future.
Here at the kickoff general session of the co-op’s Spring 2018 Convention and Exhibits, Ace executives offered a boatload of guidance, checklists and must-wins, as well as firing several shots across the bow of the formidable battleship Amazon. Repeatedly, Ace stores were presented as the human antidote to the faceless, cheap and faraway retail giant.
“All those people chasing Amazon and all those retailers chasing e-commerce are concerned with two things: speed and efficiency,” Ace Hardware executive VP John Surane said during the general session. “To get that efficiency, they are taking people out of the equation. Just do it cheap,” — he paused for emphasis — “that’s not our motto.”
Instead, it’s the job of Ace dealers to offer the customer those things for which they are famous: service, quality and “taking care of our neighbors and doing it right,” Surane said.
Furthermore, Surane used the words of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as a caution to those manufacturers who see the online giant as a viable partner. Surane said Bezos has described the profit made by vendors and manufacturers as fair game for Amazon to capture for its own. “You hear that vendors?” Surane asked, as part of an effort to encourage them to seek the independent hardware channel as the preferred distribution partner.
The harshest attacks on Amazon came from guest speaker Jules Pieri, founder and CEO of The Grommet and a self-described champion of the little guy. Amazon, she suggested, is “a parasite attached to our economy, deliberately destroying the kind of competition that made America great.”
In her remarks on the background of The Grommet, the new product incubator purchased by Ace Hardware Corp. last year, Pieri described Amazon as approaching a “state-owned monopoly” of retail.
As Amazon continues to grow — the Seattle-based company’s sales grew 31% last year — and the retail industry continues to change, the independent Ace dealers were encouraged to use their person-to-person and local-market advantages and win in three key areas in 2018, according to Surane:
- Invest in the co-op’s 20/20 Vision high-performance retailing program, which includes enriched assortments and brand investments.
- Commit to and grow business-to-business sales. The co-op pointed to a new focus in 2018 on the residential property management customer. The effort is bolstered by new leadership from former Grainger executive Bill Walton.
- Embrace the launch of the new Ace Hardware website. The site will include an improved buy online, pick up in store function (announced to applause), and in the words of Surane: “A game changer will be our ability to introduce BODFS — buy online, deliver from store.”
Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen, batting clean-up on the general session agenda, described several ideas on the future of retail for Ace Hardware, including better use of consumer intelligence and data and developing a unique shopping experience.
He also talked about evolving the role of product distribution: “We are going to need to become either an optimized logistical machine or an ultra-hyper convenient shopping experience — or both,” Venhuizen said, adding that he’s leaning toward both.
“The challenge of our time is for us to figure out a way to deliver less stuff to our stores more frequently,” he added. And he said the company is taking steps in that direction, with good results so far in a test in the Phoenix market, which he described in detail.
“We need to develop a persuasively compelling proposition to recruit, train and inspire the best talent the retail world has to offer,” he said, as his last but not least point about the future of Ace.
The Ace convention runs through March 17.
Tools trump Tariffs at Trade Fair
Cologne, Germany — At hotel televisions surrounding the International Hardware Fair, broadcasters on programs such as Bloomberg Europe and CNBC were beating the drum of pending trade disputes fueled by Brexit and the more recent and sensational plans for U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.
But inside the fair, the talk was all tools, and all business.
A reporter’s inquiries about tariffs and trade wars were met overwhelmingly with polite nods to the negative. “Companies are here to do business, regardless of the politics around the world,” said Mette Petersen, president and managing director of Koelnmesse North America.
And so they came. Business-minded delegates from around the world encountered more than 1.5 million sq. ft. of convention space at the sprawling Koelnmesse Convention Center here in Cologne. Visitors from around the world were greeted by oversized promotional banners from (to name a few) Olfa, Pferd and Gedore — European giants of, respectively, cutting tools, power tools and a thousand miscellaneous workshop products.
It was business as usual at the USA Pavilion, an area with a high-concentration of U.S. companies promoting their products to international markets. Among them: General Pipe Cleaners spelled out the durability of its drain cleaning equipment. And around the corner, manufacturer Dripless Inc. displayed its patented dripless caulk guns. (You know how the caulk keeps coming out of some tubes, even after you’ve stopped squeezing the trigger? These guns are built to prevent that.)
Around the show floor, the innovations and product news were too much to track by any one visitor, or team of visitors. But a good sense of the forward-looking nature of Eisenwarenmesse, as it’s called in Germany, was on display in its seminars and presentations.
For instance, the 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Exhibit stepped up the size and sophistication of its demonstration “print outs.” These included automotive spare parts to high-performance bicycles. Also, the trade fair’s new Start-up village allowed creative companies to share digital ideas, solutions and processes, all curated by trend scout Richard van Hooijdonk and in cooperation with the European Federation of DIY Manufacturers.
And even more futuristic was the presentation “VR: Beyond the Wow! How this technology know from computer games, can be used meaningfully for the industry today.” (One way: manufacturers can track human processes on the assembly line safely and cost effectively.)
The show also allowed various trade associations to sell the benefits of their country. China, Taiwan, India and Italy maintained strong presences. Of course, “Made in Germany” was a common slogan seen around the multiple halls. And at a presentation on hardware opportunities in International markets, Michele Tacchini, president of the Italian Hardware Association (Assofermet), described his country as a “first in fashion, first in design,” as he described a new wave of optimism among the country’s youth.
At the India-based Raging Rhino hand tools booth, a representative did in fact seem interested in the brewing tariff controversy, but mostly from a standpoint of its impact on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Asked about tariffs, a representative of a U.S. exporter who manned a busy booth on the show floor said: “One person brought it up.”
The Italian contingent also included Paolo Bulgarini. A business development executive for Arexons, maker of lubricants. Bulgarini was among those politely dismissing concerns over international trade discord. He was much more focused on promoting the relative benefits of his company’s lubricants, which he says stack up better than those of any big-name brand out there.
Pride in product combined with pride in country all over the show floor of Eisenwarenmesse, which winds down March 7.
A big show gets bigger in 2018
In many ways, the National Hardware Show will celebrate great brands. In other ways, it’s designed to help dealers discover unknown players that have yet to hit the market.
Such diversity of mission comes with the territory at the North American hardware industry’s biggest event of the year. Set for the Las Vegas Convention Center from May 8 to 10, the big show will launch new products at the aptly named “New Product Launch” in the Central Lobby. Meanwhile, the North and Central halls will hum with national and international brands.
From Briggs & Stratton and Black Mamba Gloves to Hickory Hardware and Honey-Can-Do, vendors on the show will offer merchandising ideas, buying opportunities and money-saving deals. The company expects to ride the rising optimism within the home improvement industry and build on last year’s participation when the show drew more than 30,000 industry professionals.
National Hardware Show attendees have a variety of reasons to attend the Las Vegas event. Their motives are as individual as their business, but there are several common denominators, according to the organizers of the event.
For instance, 83% of attendees say new products/categories are the primary reason to attend. And these aren’t just lookie lous, 86% said they plan on purchasing and sourcing new products when they attend. And 28% of attendees estimate an annual budget of more than $10 million for products and services seen at the show.
The something-for-everyone feel of the show is on display by the variety of events and featured areas.
- The Ultimate Backyard Experience. This feature will inject a real, backyard flavor into the popular outdoor exhibit area offering attendees an engaging way to experience new products in the environment they are intended for—the great outdoors.
- Smart Home Virtual Reality Experience. Also new, riding a trend that bridges consumer electronics and home improvement, this new area will feature a virtual Smart Home tour and interactive display.
- The American Manufacturing Awards will once again highlight the cream of the crop of domestic products on display in the Central Lobby.
- The Lawn, Garden & Outdoor Living Awards product display will focus on innovative products.
One traditional attraction of the National Hardware Show is the ability to network and learn from peers and experts. Among the movers and shakers lined up to participate in Las Vegas is Jason Ballard, co-founder and president of TreeHouse, the home improvement retailer that describes itself as the “world’s first home upgrade company.”
Also lined up to speak is Jules Pieri, co-founder and CEO of The Grommet, a website that has launched more than 2,500 consumer products since 2008. Ace Hardware Corp. purchased The Grommet in 2017.
Both are participating in the 2018 NRHA All-Industry Conference in partnership with the National Hardware Show.
The show runs on a Tuesday to Thursday schedule. Visit nationalhardwareshow.com for information, schedules and exhibitors.
“In addition to bringing the industry together to unveil those new products, new companies and inventions, the National Hardware Show is proud to honor some of the best and brightest ideas and new products coming to market each year,” said Rich Russo, industry VP of the National Hardware Show.