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9/12/2004

Hardware Solutions

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT— A new hardware store in Lafayette is catering to do-it-yourselfers and closet handywomen.

ACE Hardware Corp. is opening its third Solutions Concept Store in the country in the Waneka Marketplace, on U.S. Highway 287 just south of Empire Road, on Monday.

What makes this store different from the typical ACE Hardware is the way it displays merchandise based on customer use, rather than product type.

With wider aisles, brighter spaces, colorful signage and creative product displays, the Solutions Concept Stores have really taken off, said Natalie Danaher, a spokeswoman for the company.

The Solutions Concept Stores are “generally bigger than the typical ACE store,” she said, with the Lafayette store taking up 37,000 square feet and the typical ACE being between 5,000 and 15,000 square feet.

Along with 25,000 square feet of indoor sales area, the Lafayette store will have 5,000 square feet of outdoor sales space and a 4,000-square-foot garden area.

The store will stock more than 34,000 items.

Dan Gust, owner of the Longmont ACE Hardware, said he was attracted to the concept store after visiting the prototype in Highlands Ranch in 2000.

Gust, also the owner of the Johnstown ACE and a new Boulder ACE that will open April 1 in the Basemar Shopping Center at Broadway and Baseline, said he “stole a lot of ideas.”

“We redid our store, moved and expanded after the first Concept Store was done in Highlands Ranch,” he said. “If you look at it, this store will have some of the same features.”

Gust said the look shakes up old store styles and designs.

“I am not the authority on it, but I’ve been told by people, women who go in those stores, that they have a much more female-friendly layout,” he said. “The whole approach is much more female friendly.”

Customers who enter the Longmont ACE Hardware, for example, will notice the housewares display to the left of the cash registers.

One female customer, who asked not to be named, said she finds ACE Hardware stores to be “smaller and easier to find stuff. Because it is smaller, it is not as confusing and you can get help easier,” she said. “The prices are not bad either.”

Kathy Pesch, who visits ACE frequently to use the post office in the back of the store and to make copies on the copy machine, said she enjoys browsing, particularly in the housewares department.

Shopping the clearance rack, Pesch was checking out heavy-duty barbecue aprons that were 50 percent off.

“They have unique items. It’s kind of novel,” she said. “It’s quiet and you can find space to browse around in this area. It has its own personality. The whole store does.”

She added that she purchased all of her exterior paint at ACE and even rented a ladder there to do the painting herself.

“The lines aren’t unreasonable. At Home Depot, you get lost,” she added.

Natalie Danaher, an ACE corporate spokeswoman, said the company remains competitive in the face of the big box retailer inundation because “we at ACE actually dominate the home improvement convenience segment” of the market, which is worth about $13 billion annually.

“This type of store format fits into those parameters of what people are interested in. By bundling products together by project type, we are catering to the customers that wanted to shop stores that had wider aisles, more product selection and garden areas,” Danaher said.

In the next five years, ACE plans to open up 1,100 new hardware stores.

The Solutions Concept Stores are the only company-owned stores in the ACE chain. The rest are franchised out to private owners.

Gust said it is a common misconception that ACE would have trouble competing with big box hardware stores.

“We’re in a different market. People shop with us who value time, service and a local connection,” he said. “We are successful in the face of Home Depot and Lowe’s because we know how to do what we do, well.”

Gust added that big box retailers are “large-purchase oriented and we are breadth of product oriented.”

The new concept stores will have how-to videos at the end of aisles, product and project brochures and live product demonstrations.

The corporation picked Lafayette for the Solutions Concept store because “as a city, the demographics profile went along with our profile,” Danaher said. “The growth in that community, just the home growth over the next five years, is phenomenal. That’s a fit with where ACE wanted to go with its next Solutions store.”

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.