I’ve noticed something in the past year or so: there are a lot of Ace Hardware stores popping up in Colorado Springs. Funny thing too—I thought Ace was on the verge of bankruptcy just a few years ago. And I thought, for sure, Home Depot would have buried them with their massive selection and super-low prices. Especially because Ace is so small comparatively. In my neighborhood, they share a building with Office Depot. And they’re the smaller of the two. So how does Ace do it?
Here’s what I’ve noticed: I started going to the local Ace Hardware myself, mostly because it’s only five blocks from my house. But the more I go there, the more I’m impressed. Have you gone to an Ace recently? You’ll be impressed too. Here are just a few reasons why:
Selection: their selection is much, much smaller than Home Depot… but you can almost always find what you’re looking for. If you’re in a pinch and need a float valve for your running toilet, Ace will have exactly one brand for you to choose from. But you know what? There’s absolutely no fluff. Everything they sell is solid.
Staff: the employees are really nice, and they really do know where everything is. When you walk in the front door, the greeting lady will kindly say “welcome to Ace Hardware, can I help you find anything?” (which is usually annoying at the big box stores) but unlike the big chains, they can actually point you in the right direction. Tell her you’re looking for a hanging yellow-jacket trap, and she’ll tell you “aisle six, halfway down, third shelf up, on the left hand side.” And believe it or not, when you walk to aisle six, and go halfway down, on the third shelf up, on the left side, it’s right there, exactly where she said it would be. She doesn’t even need to walk with you to try and find it. She already knows where everything is. I’ve yet to ask for an item that the front-door gal couldn’t simply recall by memory. This, in itself is a huge help.
Expertise: you know what else is great about the staff? They know what they’re talking about. They have sections of expertise. If you’re in the garden section and ask a question about electrical products, they’ll direct you to the older man with the white beard in the electrical section. He can explain the difference between ohms, amperage and voltage in a way you can understand. And he’ll also show you which wall sockets your house needs in the kitchen.
Price: the prices aren’t always as low as Wal-mart, but they’re fair. I’ve never caught myself saying “boy, I could save a lot of money if I went somewhere else.” I have, on the other hand, said to myself “hey, not bad–especially when I need this item right now.“
Clientele: here’s something I never noticed until just now—the Home Depot and Lowes have really become more like building suppliers, and less like hardware stores. I used to work for a custom home builder, and a significant amount of last-minute items and incidentals we bought were purchased at Home Depot. Until recently, I never realized that it really doesn’t make much sense to lump the everyday homeowner with custom home builders. When I go to buy the float valve I mentioned before—do I really need to stand in line behind a builder that’s buying 120 sheets of drywall and 200 2x4s, just to buy my one little accessory to get my toilet working again? Not preferably. Home Depot is suited to the builder. I’m not a builder (anymore). I’m an everyday joe homeowner, so a store that has everything I need and nothing I don’t need is perfect.
Location: it really seems that Ace has perfected the art of the local store. Everything they have in stock is perfectly suited for the climate you live in, and the time of year. They have snow shovels just before winter, and leaf rakes just before fall. Right down to the seeds they stock: they sell seeds that grow in Colorado Springs, because that’s where we live.
At this point, I could probably try to draw a parallel between a good local hardware store and a good website, but the parallel only goes so far. It does serve as a good example, though, of a corporation that I can only guess ran itself into the ground trying to compete with a much larger competitor with a massive budget, only to emerge from the ashes and completely re-think their entire process. I’m obviously speculating at this point, but if that’s the case, then three cheers for Ace Hardware, for finding a way to reinvent themselves and serve their customers in the best way possible.
I hope I can do the same for my clients, and I hope the websites I build for them will do the same for their customers. And I’ve said for years, that whether you “sell” products online for your customers or not, your website is still your storefront. Is it like Ace? Impressive and helpful to your customers?