#6 on the Franchise 500: Ace Hardware Is Fusing Online Sales With In-Person Service

The #6 company on our Franchise 500 list is still evolving after 95 years in business.

By Gordy Megroz

Courtesy of Ace Hardware

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If it seems like there's an Ace Hardware everywhere you go, that's because it's true. Over the past five years, 836 stores have opened in the U.S., which brings the total count to 5,312. According to the company, 75 percent of all U.S. homes and businesses are within 15 minutes of an Ace store, and by leveraging that ubiquity, the retailer managed to hit record sales of $16.6 billion last year.

The figure is big any way you slice it, but it's more impressive given the competition brick-and-mortars face from e-commerce. "We're in a war for relevance," says John Venhuizen, the company's president and CEO. "The Amazon effect on retailers is significant."

But Ace is bringing its massive footprint to the online battlefield. The company recently began locking in exclusive distribution deals with major companies, such as Benjamin Moore and Stihl. Now customers can find those products only online at Ace's website. And 10 months ago, it began allowing customers who shop on its website to have orders delivered at their nearest Ace. "People don't like these things sitting on their porch all day," says Venhuizen. "It's a safety strategy." And once customers are in the store -- who knows? Maybe they pick up a couple more items on the way to the register.

Related: How Four Friends Became Successful Franchisees

The efforts bolstered Ace's online sales 81 percent for third quarter. And they come as icing on what already amounts to a stellar reputation for keeping customers happy. "We have an irrational pursuit of amazing service," says Venhuizen. Example: Buy blinds from Ace and a store employee will come measure your windows, order the blinds, then return to hang them for you.

The company, now 95 years old, could rest on its own brand strength. But it's not. In September, Ace acquired Handyman Matters, a Denver-based franchise that offers in-home handyman services. It will be rebranded as Ace Handyman Services, and as a brand extension, it proves the point: Some things are just better in the real world.

Check out our complete Franchise 500 rankings, or view more stories here.

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