In publication since 1991, Wrangler News is distributed free every other Saturday to more than 18,000 homes in the Kyrene Corridor area of South Tempe and West Chandler, and is supported by local and regional advertisers.

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Battling the big-boxes and winning: A small-business success story


May 17, 2008   

When you’re the number two guy in the neighborhood, knowing how to find your niche and fill it can spell the difference between success and failure. That’s a challenge Ace Hardware faces around the nation.  

It’s also what Kyrene Corridor resident Jan Blanco sees as a wide-open window of opportunity.

Blanco is one of only nine Ace Hardware owners nationwide participating in a year-long project to find out how the stores’ merchandising mix might be modified to lure away some of the number-one guy’s customers.

The study got under way last October and is due to wrap up in October this year.

Even though there’s still more to learn, Blanco says some changes that already have been implemented at her Baseline & McClintock store are proving the study’s worth.

For example:

“We found out that we were able to give the customer more variety of products in the same, existing space,” said Blanco.

The first new idea to take form was an equipment-rental area, an idea she says she’d had in the back of her mind for some time. “We’d always wanted to have the rental capability because the rental place down the street had closed,” she said.

Early results of the merchandising study also enabled the store to add lawnmowers, tillers, fans, evaporative coolers, tile saws, tables and chairs…”a little bit of everything,” she says, noting that the store also carries a respectable supply of equipment repair parts.

While the other stores involved in the study—two more in the Valley, six in the Chicago area—are uncovering their own individual differences, most already have made changes to their merchandising mix.

More than 3,000 products have been added to each store, says Blanco, including a number of new items in the lawn-and-garden and paint departments.

It is in the latter category where Ace seems to have found success by emphasizing its partnership with Benjamin Moore paints, at the same time maintaining the focus on Ace’s own proprietary label.

“Every neighborhood is different, and it’s hard to make a determination for each one at a national level,” said Blanco.

Thus, she says, each store carries different products, depending on what each owner is able to identify as a local priority.

As to price differentials among Ace and the big-box stores, Blanco says that, thanks to carefully crafted advertising by Home Depot and Lowe’s, customers tend “to have the idea in their heads that (the bigger stores’) prices are always lower.”

In fact, the dominant chains will lowball the price of a high-volume product like PVC pipe, but then sell the required connectors, which the average customer doesn’t think about, “for two or three times more.”

Not waiting for the study’s results to be completed, Blanco says her store continues to strengthen its commitment to customer service.

“If we can’t find an item (in our store), we special order it at no charge or we drive to another store and get it for them,” she said. “I was in Casa Grande and a customer wanted some paint we don’t carry, so I stopped at Frazee on the way back and picked it up.”

It wasn’t, Blanco insists, a one-time occurrence.

“We do that sort of thing every day.”

Location: 1805 E. Baseline Road, Tempe
Information: (480) 839-2623



Photo by David Stone


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