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In Atlanta, Ace is the place for change


ATLANTA By Bill Addison

The 2009 Ace Hardware Fall Convention & Exhibits kicked off yesterday morning with a general session, which focused on the many changes about to happen at Ace.

The session started with Dave Ziegler, chairman of Ace’s board of directors who told a room of more than 2,000 members and vendors alike that the folks at Ace are prepared to make changes.

“This is a time of great change for all of us; a changing economy, changing consumer behaviors and a changing competitive landscape,” said Ziegler. “Powerful actions are necessary for any thriving organization, and now is time to take a hard look at how and why we do things here at Ace and see where we can all improve and simplify.”

John Surane, VP merchandising, advertising and marketing, highlighted the need for doing things differently and set the stage for the changes to come.

“Just because we did it one way yesterday doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do today, and it’s certainly no excuse to continue on that way. We have to challenge it. The market, the business, the way consumers shop -- how they shop, what they buy -- will continue to change and we have to change with it.”

This idea applied to the convention itself, which touted the tag line “Anything But Conventional.”

On the show floor, Surane pointed to buyers’ booths in the center of the departments, no longer on the end of the aisles, as well as new products being moved to the center of the showroom floor. He also pointed to a new feature to help showcase new products, Innovation Theater -- a stage where vendors bring products for a show and tell.

“This is all about putting the experts in front of you with their newest greatest products and demonstrating them live for you,” said Surane. More significant were the changes in Ace’s strategic planning and new marketing campaigns.

“First we’re going teach consumers how and when to use Ace," said Brian Wiborg, director of consumer marketing. "We’ll differentiate Ace from the big boxes not by owning certain customers, but by owning certain occasions. We’re going to reestablish our rightful role by breaking the convention of home improvement. And finally, we will restore the pride in taking care of your home and not chase after the type of business that’s being slaughtered in this recession.”

That strategy puts the focus squarely on home maintenance and repair. Wiborg said that the company needs to break the home improvement mindset that places Ace in the same group with Home Depot and Lowe's. Instead, the co-op hopes to establish the mindset that Ace is the place to take care of your home.

The key to this will be in Ace’s new marketing campaign set to launch this spring. The tagline will remain “Ace the helpful place” and the mantra will be “Get In, Get Help, Get on with your life.”

One of the categories Ace is prepared to take the big boxes head on with, however, was paint. Surane said that the company’s current 4% of the paint market share was not enough. He set an ambitious goal of doubling that market share to 8%. His confidence is based in part on the company’s launch of a new paint line called Essence, which Ace will be offering its customers at a low price point of $13.99 per gallon, after a $5 mail in rebate. He said the company has also relabeled and rebranded its Royal line, to give it a more attractive professional look.

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