HARDWARE STORES

At Westlake, an appetite for growth

BY Ken Clark

Westlake Ace Hardware, the retail division of Ace Hardware Corp., opened its 101st store in early August through the acquisition of Indian Hills Ace Hardware in Wichita, Kansas.

The purchase of Indian Hills Ace comes right out of the strategic playbook drawn up when Ace Hardware Corp. purchased Westlake back in 2012. Among the rationale for that industry-shaking deal was the idea that the Lenexa, Kansas-based hardware chain could be positioned to buy other Ace stores that were looking to sell.   

Westlake has embraced the role, especially recently. It acquired Seagoville Ace Hardware in Texas in July of last year. In December, two Williams Ace Hardware stores in the Wichita area joined Westlake. And in June, Westlake acquired two Q.P. Ace Hardware stores in Omaha, Nebraska.

“We have an appetite for growth, and we’re looking to take advantage of our footprint,” said Westlake Ace CEO Tom Knox.  “By and large, we’re buying profitable, really good hardware stores. And we want to look for ways to grow.”

When Westlake Ace buys what it believes is a quality store, there are few plans to shake things up. Cases in point are the two new stores in the Raleigh, North Carolina market. The stores carried the Ace Hardware banner, and Westlake sees no reason to change the banner by introducing the Westlake brand that’s more famous in Kansas City than Carolina.

"We’re not trying to make a ton of changes,” Knox said. “Where there is already a local following and brand equity, we want to keep it that way.” The two stores in North Carolina mark the farthest outpost for the Westlake empire. Westlake intends to build up the footprint in the Carolinas to find synergies in advertising and distribution.

Knox, along with the company’s President and COO Joe Jeffries, spoke with HBSDealer recently about the retailer’s culture of growth and its commitment to convenience – a term that both men believe is crucial to understand and embrace. Both executives are also quick to describe the relationship with the co-op as cordial and collaborative, without any top-down marching orders from Oak Brook.

According to Jeffries, the relationship between owner and wholly owned subsidiary is “a very positive experience and a very collaborative environment.”

Westlake’s structure includes a board with two Ace Hardware co-op officers, and two Ace dealers. Knox explained that’s about as far as corporate’s control extends over the operations of the Kansas-based retailer.

“We are not forced to try things. We like participating in tests, and we like to try new programs and be test stores wherever we can,” he added.

Even more collaboration comes from within the Westlake family.  According to Jefferies: “We pay a lot of attention. to what works in each of our markets and regions. And we’re always looking to adopt best practices.”

And then there’s new niches. According to Knox, Westlake constantly asks itself “how can we introduce new product niches inside our stores and continually focus on our store-level productivity? That is at the top of the priority list.”

One of the biggest niches to come along recently is in the Kansas City area, where Westlake introduced Westlake Pet Supply. It’s been operating for more than three months now, and “it’s doing spectacular,” said Knox. Two more are in the works.

‘We totally reset the store and created a store-within-a-store concept,” Knox said. “It has a separate entrance. It’s a great niche for a lot of our stores, largely because people will spend money on their pets.”

And while the retailer flexes its brick-and-mortar muscle, it’s also aware of the challenges placed on retailers by new competitors, including Amzon.com.

‘We are taking steps,” said Jeffries. “We’re working in partnership with Ace Corp. A lot of our success has to do with how we define convenience and how the consumer of tomorrow is certainly going to define it. We have to know that, and we have to make sure that we maintain that top-of-mind position in convenience.”

He added 75% of online orders are picked up in the store, which is good for the customer and good for size of basket metrics.

Westlake also recently added Stihl outdoor power equipment to 70 stores. “We’re continually looking at the breadth of our product mix,” said Knox. “Service and convenience, that’s what’s going to win.”

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B.KLATT says:
Sep-11-2017 12:01 pm

thank you
thank you

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HARDWARE STORES

Companies pitch in for a Harvey recovery

BY HBSDealer Staff

Around the country, the hardware and building supply industry is pitching in for Hurricane Harvey Relief, even as many of the same companies brace for Hurricane Irma. Business owners that have suffered through other natural disasters make particularly compelling arguments for lending a hand to those in need.

One such business is Ace Hardware of Gatlinburg. The store luckily escaped wildfires in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park nine months ago, while businesses across the street were devoured by flames.  The company’s facebook post explains what the Tennessee store is doing for Harvey relief:

“Nine months ago … all of us were affected by the deadly wildfires that ravaged our little community. Although they are a much larger community, and it's a different tragedy, the people of Houston are now experiencing great loss. I'm sure their hearts are breaking just like ours were. Here's our chance to give back as a way of saying thanks for the out pouring of support that Gatlinburg received. HELP HOUSTON is Ace Hardware's effort to do just that. A special sku # has been set up to accept donations to the American Red Cross, Houston. Donations are tax deductible, just as you were sending it directly to the Red Cross. Rest assured, every dollar we collect will be sent to Houston via the American Red Cross. Please join us in giving them HOPE and letting them know that they aren't alone!#HelpHouston

The news wires contain many other signs of good will towards Houston's recovery efforts, including the following:

• Meritage Homes Corporation, the homebuilder with a significant presence in Houston, announced that its foundation will donate $250,000 to aid disaster recovery efforts in Texas. The donation, comprised of $125,000 to the American Red Cross and $125,000 to the Rebuild Texas Fund, will help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

• Tamko Building Products, Inc. has proudly donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross to assist with their Hurricane Harvey disaster relief efforts in Houston and the surrounding area. Tamko presented the funds at the Joplin, Missouri Red Cross office on Sept. 6.

• On Sept. 5, Honeywell announced that it has donated about $2 million in personal protective equipment (PPE) to support first responders and emergency personnel in efforts to assist their communities following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

• On Sept. 15, Port Washington, NY-based PACOA will be loading a tractor trailer with much needed supplies to bring to Houston.

• Fort Wayne-based Do it Best Corp. presented a donation of $10,000 to the American Red Cross of Northeast Indiana in support of the charitable organization’s ongoing Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

• Lowe’s announced a $500,000 contribution to American Red Cross Disaster Relief to help the Red Cross provide food, emergency shelter, relief supplies and comfort to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Harvey and countless other crises. Lowe’s said it is working with its national nonprofit partners to provide both immediate and long-term support to local communities.

• The Home Depot Foundation announced its commitment of $1 million to support Hurricane Harvey disaster relief efforts in Texas and Louisiana. Funds will be distributed to several nonprofit partners including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Convoy of Hope, Operation Blessing and Team Rubicon to support both short-term relief and rebuilding needs.

(NOTE: Have you seen a relief effort worth publicizing? Let us know at [email protected].)

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Inside a Houston ‘command center’

BY Ken Clark

On Sunday night, before the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey, the following post appeared on the Facebook page of Cypress Ace Hardware: “We will be open tomorrow. We have batteries, generators, tarps, plugs and pumps. Whether you need supplies or just a dry place to take a minute, we are here. We are not leaving.”

All around Texas, hardware and building supply dealers are performing the difficult task of remaining open for business – and open for relief — in a major catastrophe. Cypress Ace Hardware is one of those with a front row seat on the disaster, and the unfolding recovery. The Houston store has been a command center for all of Ace in the northern part of the city since before the storm.

Just two-and-half miles from Cypress Ace in northwest Houston, the water reached to the red part of stop signs. But the store has been open through it all. And while other retailers who are friends of the Murffs have three feet of water in their stores, Cypress Ace was spared. The store played the role of command center for other Ace stores by serving as a will-call holding zone after receiving five truck loads of storm-related products. Ace retailers who could reach the store could pick up product on site, as opposed to waiting for a separate delivery.

“We’re tired, but we’re OK,” said Susan Murff, who owns the store with her husband Bill Murff. “It’s such a nice thing to be here when customers are so happy to see us they hug us when they walk in.” Top sellers have been batteries, flashlights, gas cans and generators (at left).

Bill Murff and the couple’s son, Jason – a 26-year-old Army veteran – slept on cots in the store since Hurricane Harvey touched down. Part of the reason: to prevent looters.

Susan Murff spoke with HBSDealer on a sunny Thursday when water levels were dropping in some parts of the city, and still rising in others.  She said more than 30,000 people remain in shelters. She expects a new phase of the post storm to kick in soon – the clean up.

We have supply trucks coming in and people here are beginning to leave the shelters,” she said. “That will mark the next big rush of people buying bleach and other cleaning products.”

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