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How Ace Hardware Prioritized Core Values And Hit Record Revenue During The Pandemic


By Rama Ramaswami

The Covid-19 pandemic hurt many businesses and destroyed others, but for some, the crisis revealed rare opportunities to reinforce core values and drive growth. After seizing the moment to reinforce its brand’s spirit, combined with other thoughtful strategies, Ace Hardware, the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the world, posted its record revenue of $7.8 billion in 2020—jumping nearly 28% from the previous year.

At its heart, Ace is about home preservation, not renovation—a point that its CEO emphasizes. Unlike its rivals, Ace doesn’t primarily serve the home remodeling or building materials supply markets. Sticking to its core philosophy of preservation served the company well during lockdown as people stayed home and spent more of their discretionary income on maintaining their homes and yards.

“As an essential business, we stayed open during the pandemic, and that’s been very positive for us,” says Fadi Abu Manneh, Ace’s director of retail procurement and group purchasing.

How The Office Depot Partnership Benefits Ace Retailers

“Like other companies, Ace had to shift its strategic priorities and operations after the Covid-19 outbreak,” says Abu Manneh. “Amid elevated demand, widespread supplier disruptions and employee health concerns, significant effort went into maintaining our supply chain. Our retailers and their communities were depending on us, and it was a real challenge to overcome—but we met the challenge head on.”

A key source of support during that time was Ace’s alliance with Office Depot. The two companies—vendor partners for many years—became even more integrated in 2016 when Office Depot joined SAVINGSource, Ace’s indirect purchasing program. The program’s participating suppliers offer steep discounts on products and services to SAVINGSource participants, including Ace stores, and also enables groups of regional stores to band together for savings on product categories like phones, waste and energy.

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“As our retailers worked tirelessly to serve their communities, Office Depot was there to help service us the whole way through, so that was one less thing our retailers had to worry about,” Abu Manneh says. “Retailers had to shift suppliers, but we were able to rely on that relationship to keep us going in the office products space.”

Ace Conventions Connect Retailers And Vendors

Office Depot also participates in Ace’s spring and fall trade shows, which are among the largest in the country. Abu Manneh describes the trade show process, which all independent Ace retailers experience, as intense.

“We’ll spend a week with Ace store owners doing a variety of activities, including training, learning and engaging with product [and] service vendors to help support their store,” he says. “Having a company like Office Depot that not only comes to the trade show but goes above and beyond goes a long way. They make sure that the trade show experience is as impactful as possible [for] our retailers. It gives executive-level account managers at Office Depot the opportunity to interact with folks that own a single Ace hardware store.”

Staying In Tune With The Community

The ability to be locally owned and stay connected with its communities continues to be critical to Ace’s growth. Each of the company’s more than 4,600 stores across the country is uniquely adapted to its neighborhood. Abu Manneh notes that Ace retailers range from neighborhood hardware stores in the suburbs to integrated multifaceted businesses, including those focused on groceries and farms in rural markets. And the number of stores is steadily rising.

“We are definitely in growth mode, and [we] are opening up stores as quickly as we can to meet the needs of our communities,” Abu Manneh says. “It’s absolutely a priority for both Ace and Office Depot to help ensure that as new investors enter the Ace family, they have the SAVINGSource program accessible to them so they can leverage it to its fullest potential.”

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