|Volume 11, Issue 6||
In addition to items you’d expect in a hardware store—hand and power tools, electrical and plumbing supplies, paint, garden supplies and equipment—they also have an excellent selection of supplies and tools for household cleaning, canning, outdoor cooking, pool and spa care, seasonal items and much more.
Ace Hardware is a retailer-owned cooperative. When retailers affiliate with Ace, they purchase shares of company stock, which gives them voting rights in the cooperative. This is their investment in the company. It’s not a franchise, so store owners have the freedom to source their goods from other places, and run the stores the way they want. Ace controls signage and branding, and offers some training, along with promotional support programs including advertising and “Ace Rewards,” but not all are mandatory.
The Ace Rewards program lets you earn cash rewards for purchases, but also allows customers to receive instant rebates. The store gives you the discount at checkout, and then they apply for the rebate so you don’t have to bother. You can get a card at the checkstand, it only takes a few minutes.
Ace was early in adopting computers for retail, rolling out their Profits, Analysis, Control, Efficiency (PACE) computer system in 1979 for ordering merchandise, tracking sales and analyzing purchase results. Hi-School also provides some of the software needed to keep track of the tens of thousands of items in the store. Curtis and two of his ten employees share the back-office duties. He gets daily reports from Hi-School’s system that lets him know what was sold.
Hi-School Hardware also has its own buyers who attend the national hardware shows so they can stay abreast of new products and trends. Both companies have their own store brands, with Ace providing over twelve thousand items. Ace recently started selling Craftsman tools (Sears Holdings). It’s up to Curtis to decide which items are in this store, based on his knowledge of the community. He can also buy goods directly, such as the Traeger and Green Mountain grills.
Curtis is also more than happy to special-order any of over sixty thousand items in his catalogs. Customers can use the Ace website to order online and have their purchases delivered to the store for pickup. “But for items over $50, you should talk to me about it, because I might be able to get a better deal,” he says. The store gets a small percentage of the purchase price for their trouble in handling the items, which sometimes involves helping with assembly!
The building, in the Milltowner Center on the northeast corner of Cornell and Saltzman, is owned by Bales / Findley Property Management. Hi-School Pharmacy had operated there for many years, and included a hardware and variety section. In 2003, Walgreen’s purchased the pharmacy business as part of an 11-store sale by Hi-School owner Steve Oliva. Walgreens doesn’t do hardware, so negotiations among Hi-School, Milltowner and Walgreens led to a division that put the hardware business into a separate space.
“We have a great location here, right at the front of the building,” says Curtis, who came on board at Cedar Mill right around that time. “Every day or so we get someone wandering in looking for the pharmacy,” he laughs.
Curtis has worked in various areas of retail in this region for most of his life. He started at Fred Meyers, and was an assistant manager at several of their stores for nine years. He also managed TruValue stores in Oregon City and Milwaukie, and a Food Connection. “It was easier ordering groceries than what we do here,” he says.
All of his ten employees do multiple duty, including sales and customer service, stocking and maintaining the store, pricing and merchandising, and providing services like key-cutting, tool and knife sharpening, and re-screening for doors and windows. Most of them have worked in the store for several years.
They like to get to know the customers and sometimes perform special services. “One of our senior customers bought a plug replacement kit for an appliance, but didn’t know how to use it, so we just did it for her. Some of our customers know exactly what they want when they walk in, but we’re happy to help them figure it out if they don’t. If you have something that needs fixing, bring it in and we can help you find what you need and explain how to do it.” Curtis says that between all the store employees, they’re able to answer most questions.
One area where this store really beats the competition is with their fasteners and other small parts. One entire aisle—both sides!—is devoted to nuts, bolts, screws and other little essential bits—steel, galvanized, brass, regular and metric. The supplier has just “reset” the display, with even more helpful labeling and organization. You only buy what you need, marking the item and quantity on the little baggies that are provided. And of course the employees are happy to help you find what you need.
“Maintaining that section is a constant chore that we all do,” Curtis says. “While a grown-up is searching for what they need, their kids are often pulling things out of the bins below. Sometimes we just have to scoop stuff up and recycle it with the supplier,” he laughs.
The store is much smaller than some of the competition, but because Curtis and his staff know the community, they keep it stocked with almost everything you want. Hi-School has a warehouse in North Portland, and the Ace warehouse is in central Washington, so special orders arrive quickly, often the next day.
Seasonal items are another specialty. Currently they’re displaying summer stuff—backyard toys, barbecue grills, outdoor lighting. They have one of the best assortments of holiday lighting and decorating items you can imagine during that season, so be sure to shop here first when that time rolls around.
Some items that do well around here? Sluggo! (a non-toxic slug bait that really works). Gas grills, green gardening products, and InWood stain products also sell well. If there’s something you can’t find here and you think others would like it, they’d be happy to hear about it.
Cedar Mill Ace Hardware is located at 12505 NW Cornell, at the northeast corner of Cornell and Saltzman. Plenty of easy, free parking is always available. Their hours are Monday-Saturday, 8 am to 7 pm, and Sunday 9-5. Call them at 503-672-9489, or visit the Ace website to view their current ad and more.
Published monthly by Pioneer Marketing & Design
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291