Why do so many people love shopping at Ace Hardware?

Photo: Ace Hardware
Jul 12, 2017
George Anderson

A new survey of more than 7,800 consumers has found that more name Ace Hardware as their personal favorite place to shop than any other retailer when it comes to home improvement projects.

The research by Market Force Information asked survey participants to rate their satisfaction based on their last experience with a home improvement retailer. They were also asked how likely they were to recommend that retailer to others. The data collected was then averaged to determine the overall loyalty of shoppers to a given business. Brand selection, store cleanliness, merchandise and value were also factored into the scoring.

Ace Hardware achieved a composite loyalty score of 63 percent in Market Force’s rankings. Menards at 60 percent came next, followed by Lowe’s (55 percent) and Home Depot (51 percent).

Ace got the highest marks from consumers for easy to shop stores, customer service and associate knowledge and fast checkouts. Menards was tops when it came to the variety of merchandise offered and value. Lowe’s had the best parking lots. Home Depot, the nation’s largest home improvement chain, was last among shoppers when it came to service.

Only 20 percent of respondents said they participate in a retailer’s loyalty program. Here too, Ace was tops with 67 percent participating. Lowe’s (21 percent), Menards (11 percent) and Home Depot (8 percent) were decidedly less popular.

Market Force is not the only research organization to quantify the connection Ace has with its customers. J.D. Power has put Ace at the top of its customer satisfaction ratings 11 years in a row. This year’s score, announced last month, improved to 816 (on a 1,000 point scale) from 795 in 2016. The study develops its score by assessing five factors: merchandise, price, sales and promotions, staff and service, and store facility.

In 2015, Ace began to try and monetize its reputation for service by launching its Center of Excellence. The division was created to help others improve customer experiences using the Ace approach.

Ace is ranked third in sales (including online) among home improvement retailers in the U.S. following Home Depot and Lowe’s, according to Kantar Retail. Menards is fourth.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What factors do you think are most important when it comes to why consumers select a home improvement store? Does Ace Hardware’s structure as a retailer-owned cooperative somehow empower stores to provide better service? Do you see Ace Hardware being able to convert its service reputation into greater share of the home improvement market in the future?

"Not too many consumers are true experts on home repairs and the like, so they count on stores like Ace to help them with great staff and advice."
"Operating as a retailer-owned cooperative results in each store responding to their local customers better."
"If Ace can afford to keep their same service model while taking over a greater share of the home improvement market in the future the sky’s the limit."

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24 Comments on "Why do so many people love shopping at Ace Hardware?"

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Steve Montgomery

I cannot speak for Ace as a chain, but the local Highland Park Ace store has been my go-to for many years. Although smaller than the local Home Depot or Lowe’s, it still carries an amazing variety of merchandise. The customer service is outstanding, whether it is a simple question of where I can find X or what I need to fix Y and how to do it.

I do believe local ownership is a large factor in Ace’s ability to compete with the larger home supply/hardware locations. They seem to really care about their customers.

Jon Polin

If I have a very good sense of what I want to buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s are fine. When I want that nostalgic sense of having a trusted home improvement expert to consult with and guide me through a project, the guys at Ace, even when they are young, just seem like trustworthy veterans who really know what they are talking about. Trust goes a long way in retail!

Bob Phibbs

What a great testament to their drive to live their brand image, starting back when Connie Stevens crooned that “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware [man].” Without a relentless commitment to that at the top, it would never be possible for their affiliates to effectively represent that brand in countless markets. Would that translate to a Geek Squad of their own? Doubtful — too many brands believe everything translates equally.

Kevin Graff

This is the classic example of David vs. Goliath, even though “David” in this case is rather large as well. It’s the high-touch factor that resonates with customers in this category. Not too many consumers are true experts on home repairs and the like, so they count on stores like Ace to help them with great staff and advice.

Up in in the Great White North (Canada … where it’s a lovely 80 degrees today by the way), Home Hardware with it’s 1,000-plus stores operates on the same model as Ace. When their stores are staffed by knowledgeable, skilled and engaged staff they win the game every time. As a consumer, if you’re not up to the equivalent of a scavenger hunt through a big box store, then your neighborhood home improvement retailer is what you look for.

Ace, just like Home Hardware, is ideally positioned to grow their market share as Boomers age and Millennials grow their spending power.

Shep Hyken

In any sector of retail, service, knowledge and an easy experience are important keys to success. Why does Ace do well? They don’t just offer friendly service. They offer “helpful” service. They have well-trained associates who know the answers to their customer’s questions. Their training in customer service isn’t to wait for a customer to approach them, but for them to approach the customer. That’s why they call themselves “The Helpful Hardware Place.” And the smaller footprint of the Ace stores, compared to their big box competitors, makes it an easier in-store experience, not to mention a smaller parking lot, which makes shopping at Ace easier.

Most Ace stores are truly locally owned and operated. Many of the owners have just one or two stores. That allows for a bond with their community compared to the national big box stores. The big boxes offer good service, low prices and selection. For Ace to compete with that they have to find a place to win, and they found that place with amazing customer service.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

I love that Ace Hardware has kept the store footprint to a convenient shopping size, positioned in easily accessible locations, and has figured out how to stock lots of what I consume across a few categories. The Canadian counterpart, Home Hardware (with 1,000 independently owned member stores), is cast from the same mold and is an equally attractive first source and destination.

Both are well positioned to improve their ship-to-store online and in-store order processes and to serve as a user-pays shipping depot. It is intriguing that loyalty programs and demographics/analytics seem not to be customer-focused, but the entire business operates from its POS and inventory systems along with the hands of store owners and management.

Art Suriano
I think the reason for Ace Hardware’s success is simple: dealer/owner-operated stores. When the person you are dealing with at store level owns the business, more often than not you’re going to get the best service because as the owner they have a vested interest in satisfying their customers. Owners are more careful with the people they hire and they can keep their eye on them, making sure the employees are doing their jobs up to the owner’s expectations. Home Depot and Lowe’s have become SO big it’s not a fair comparison. At those chains the focus is entirely different, with too much emphasis on the bottom line along with extremely high compensation packages for the executives. How do you motivate a minimum wage employee to “wow” the customer when they read online that their CEO took home millions of dollars last year? If the big chains want to compete with the type of service Ace Hardware is providing, they’ll have to invest more in their stores, hire more store associates and provide adequate training. That would mean the executives will have to be willing to lower their compensation. In the long run, the company would do much better and… Read more »
Richard Layman
10 days 21 hours ago

It’s not just that the stores are individually owned, it’s that the Ace Hardware business cooperative operation is also leading-edge compared to their competition. This came out in the firm’s early focus on promoting stores in center cities, in providing special incentive programs to help open new stores and in creating new merchandising schemes (“Destination Ace”) and support for other types of stores (rental, farm, party) within the umbrella. In my market (DC), companies affiliated with Ace seem to have much more going for them then the stores within the True Value umbrella.

Tom Erskine
10 days 22 hours ago

When you walk in to Ace and ask for a 3/8″ whatchamacallit, they always know exactly where it is. Then they recommend an alternative approach. Trusted, knowledgeable service goes a long way.

Kim Garretson
10 days 22 hours ago

I’m just back from a trip to Ace this morning after two trips to Home Depot over the weekend. I went to Ace because I wanted to show the service desk that does repairs on equipment a particularly troubling project. They not only fixed the project, they showed me the products they use in the service area for the best solutions if my problem happens again. I don’t think I would have gotten this level of service at Home Depot and now, having shopped both stores so close together, I can say that Ace’s prices (at least on the items I was buying) were at best 10 percent higher than Home Depot.

Harley Feldman

The main reasons I go to Ace Hardware are the huge selection of items in a small store format and the knowledge of the store associates. Home projects tend to be things done once by homeowners who have little background and knowledge about the project to be done, the tools required and the procedures to best get the job done. Ace Hardware seems to always have someone in the store who can make recommendations on the right items to buy and how to install them.

Operating as a retailer-owned cooperative results in each store responding to their local customers better. The large chains tend to buy and support items purchased for volume and tend to be the same across the chain instead of focused on the local store market.

Ace Hardware could expand its services into several areas. Providing recommendations on local contractors and providing in-home repair services are two of those areas.

Dr. Stephen Needel

It’s all about the service — Ace IS the place with the helpful hardware man. I disagree that their small footprint is an advantage, though. They have an attitude that has to be corporate-driven that makes DIY incompetents like me comfortable. And I can buy that one screw and those two washers that I need, not a whole box. So the type of assortment (not the size), for many of us, is a big plus.

Brandon Rael

Service, service and more service is the key differentiator for any home improvement store. This particularly stands out at Ace Hardware. In today’s DIY world, navigating around a hardware or home improvement store could prove to be a very challenging experience and an empowered, educated, passionate and motivated staff is what makes a particular brand stand out.

Along with that, curating your assortments, transforming the home improvement/hardware store to align with a “lifestyle” rather than the current model, will encourage consumers to come back to the store and remain loyal to a particular brand. Showing empathy and doing whatever it takes to please your customers will drive the loyalty that these brands are competing for.

Ian Percy

It’s all been said above — I just want to add my kudos to Ace.

Finding the right adapter for a pipe is about 3.8 miles closer than at the big box stores. And that’s measuring it from the front door.

Dick Seesel

Add me to the list of the other panelists for whom Ace is the place. It’s my go-to store when I need to find something to fix at home because the item is almost always in stock and easy to find. But it’s the culture of helpfulness (at least at my neighborhood store) that really makes Ace stand out from the giant DIY competition.

Doug Garnett

Despite all the hype about tech, customer satisfaction is dominated by product and staff. Ace delivers both.

Hardware is a category for which store expertise is important. Because of their store sizes and local ownership, Ace are able to deliver the expertise customers need. In fact, I’ve had Home Depot store staff recommend I go to Ace to solve a problem.

But also, Ace corporate has excellent programs for stocking stores (new and existing) with the products people need. And they offer freedom for local stocking and an excellent marketplace from which to choose. The local tailoring of stores has given them a way to thrive side by side with big box stores.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Ace has figured it out that customers coming through its doors are only seeking two things: good feelings and solutions to problems. The retailer-owned cooperative helps in the process by welcoming neighbors into the Ace stores. It is nice to walk in and be recognized (good feelings) and even better when you tell them you have a “thingamajig” that needs to be addressed (solutions to problems). Instead of being told to go down to aisle 18, turn left and look around, as is normally the case in the big DIY stores, the Ace staff member walks you to an area of the store (most considerably smaller than the big box DIY stores) and helps you solve your problem.

I’m not certain if this terrific positioning in the market will improve its overall share given the number of big ticket and large bulk items sold by the big guys. However, Ace certainly has demonstrated that there are “riches in niches.”

Lee Peterson

Simple answer: one-on-one customer service. At least at the Ace near me I walk in, someone greets me, I tell them what I need, they take me to the area where my products would be, ask me if I need anything else and say thank you. Can you imagine that? Compare that to the experience in a big box DIY store, where you walk in, wander around (at least I do) for 20 minutes lost, stumble on what you need then walk a mile back out to your car.

Ace’s big box competitors are set up for pros. Ace is for the little guy, especially dolts like me who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s good that they’re being rewarded for creating what was once commonplace: the neighborhood hardware store.

Dave Nixon

Simply put, this is one-to-one retailing in the modern age compared against mass big box stores. Inventory and selection are comparable and the customer service (experience) is great!

Cristian Grossmann

“Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks!” I personally love Ace for its exceptional customer service which is what they pride themselves on. I have never walked into an Ace and not been asked if I needed help or had any questions. Lowe’s and Home Depot generally have more options, but they do not come close to Ace in regards to customer service. And in the home improvement industry people have many more questions than walking into a clothing store or grocery store, so customer service is even more important. Their loyalty program also offers useful rewards (free money) rather than coupons for items you don’t need. If Ace can afford to keep their same service model while taking over a greater share of the home improvement market in the future the sky’s the limit.

Sandy Turner
Excellent customer service is immeasurably important in all aspects of retail, however in this example there are a few factors that may supersede its importance and influence the customer decision. 1. Convenience will always remain an important factor in a consumer’s selection of a home improvement store. The Lowe’s and Home Depots of the world are generally located near other shopping destinations, making it very simple to drop in and see if they have a specific item(s) while in the area. 2. Selection is an important factor that comes into play in departments like Outdoor & Garden than in Plumbing, for example, but is not one that should be ignored. If a consumer knows that a retailer supplies a variety of products from which to choose, that alone may draw them in (i.e. Lowe’s and Home Depot merchandise their flowers so that they are visible well beyond the parking lot). 3. Skill level of the consumer plays into the decision (for the most part) when the skill level is on the low end. For those who have specific questions and need detailed answers, the choice of retailer is pretty clear. The level of service provided by the Ace Hardware’s of… Read more »
Brian Kelly
10 days 17 hours ago

The solution for the DIY project determines the outlet. Some are in front of the wall and some behind. Some are heavy and some light. So lots of variability in “consumer.” Convenience v. Service is what drives the local Ace. Convenience = time.

Some stores have one or two go-to experts, otherwise it’s part time kids. It’s how the business model works. In reality service is “meh.” Like your handy and goofy brother in law who sorta fixes things eventually.

Assortment is limited and quirky. Screen repair or a needed screw, sure. But toilet bowl fix, maybe. Ducktape, for sure! What color do you need?

Ace has a built in cost inefficiency as corporate is middle man who takes a piece. That makes Ace less competitive in terms of price. So the value prop is whacked.

Perception is reality. Helpful hardware folks, whatever. Maybe with True Value in play, Ace has an opportunity. Otherwise, Ace future, beyond local, is “meh.”

As George Pepperdine (founder of Western Auto) said, “retail ain’t for sissies!”

Ken Morris
The selection criteria for home improvement shoppers varies by consumer and by product type.  Commodity and easy to select items require no customer service assistance and are typically price and convenience driven.  Consumers will typically buy these items at the closest store.   On the flip side, products that are more complex or expensive often require assistance from a store associate to find or select the right product. Consumers will give more thought into store selection for these items, as they want to make the process easy and have confidence that they select the best product for their needs.  This is where Ace, “The Helpful Place,” excels.  Many of us have had frustrating and unsatisfactory experiences at big box home improvement stores when the staff is less than helpful or are nowhere to be found. When I go to Ace with a project that has a unique problem, like the product is discontinued, they solve my problem with a creative solution.   Ace stands out as having the most helpful staff in the home improvement category and they are prospering as a result. They understand that customers with higher levels of satisfaction are more likely to repurchase and recommend the… Read more »
gordon arnold

People are and have been shopping price, product/service availability and one stop shopping. I say this simply because the sales leaders like Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon have focused on these attributes and are clear winners in their respective markets.

What Ace brings to the table is store management/ownership with the ability and interest in responding to the individual store markets. The big box corporations with their centralized purchasing, planning and allocation department(s) will need to make strategic changes to meet this opportunity. The rewards for following this include, but are not limited to, better turns, higher profits and increased consumer loyalty. But they are trapped into buying very large quantities of the things they can sell to keep the lowest price. The answer is yes. Consumers buy price and the retailer that sells for less sells more.

"Not too many consumers are true experts on home repairs and the like, so they count on stores like Ace to help them with great staff and advice."
"Operating as a retailer-owned cooperative results in each store responding to their local customers better."
"If Ace can afford to keep their same service model while taking over a greater share of the home improvement market in the future the sky’s the limit."

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