Venhuizen elaborates on Ace’s vision
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."
"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."
Slide show: Ace in Chicago
Ace Hardware alighted on Chicago on the occasion of its 2016 Convention and Exhibits.
In addition to a general session backed by the star power of General Stanley McChrystal, Ace also shined a spotlight on products and promotions around the show floor.
Here are a few scenes that caught the attention of HBSDealer’s roving camera.
Products and promotions shine in Chicago
Chicago — Among the plethora of merchandise stories playing out in the cavernous McCormick Place convention center here at the Ace Convention and Exhibits, Ace merchants pointed to a handful of hot categories.
One of them is the tried-and-true paint department. At the paint area of the show floor, Ace was showing off its new Color Sample Station, rolled out in April. It's a point-of-purchase display that offers consumers free testers. Since its rollout, stores that allow dealers to "try it" have seen sales increase 60%, the co-op said.
All around the exhibit floor, dealers are looking for the next big thing. One possibility, according to Chris Hankla, Ace's lawn and garden merchant, is the lightweight portable hammock from Eagle Nest Outfitters. "This could be the very next Yeti," he said, referring to the hot-selling cooler brand.
According to Ace, light bulbs rank first in both retail sales dollars and gross profit dollars across Ace stores. The company rolled out a new Ace brand LED product for price-sensitive customers looking to trade up to LED.
Also on the show floor are 77 new vendors. The co-op's Convention and Exhibits runs through Saturday.