In 1924, to increase buying power and profits, entrepreneurs Richard Hesse, E. Gunnard Lindquist, Frank Burke and Oscar Fisher united their Chicago, Illinois hardware stores into “Ace Stores”. The company was named after the ace fighter pilots of World War I, who were able to overcome all odds. Ace Stores were officially incorporated in 1928, and the company opened its first warehouse a year later. In 1931, the name was changed to Ace Hardware Corporation.
By the end of the 1940s, Ace had wholesale sales of more than $7 million from the 133 stores it supplied. By its 35th anniversary in 1959, the company had more than tripled this figure, with wholesale sales of $24.5 million from 325 stores.
Founder and longtime president Richard Hesse retired in 1973. The company was thereafter sold to its retailers and restructured as a cooperative, moving its headquarters to Oak Brook, Illinois. Independent retailers became the exclusive shareholders in the company. The strategy proved successful, and Ace surpassed $1 billion in wholesale sales for the first time in 1985; it went on to pass $5 billion in 2015.
In 2012, Ace Hardware acquired its largest member, Westlake Ace Hardware, for $88 million. The following year, Ace’s president and CEO John Venhuizen launched 20/20 Vision, a strategy to use network power to provide better customer service. As of 2016, J. D. Power has ranked Ace Hardware “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Home Improvement Retail Stores” for ten consecutive years.
In 2014 and 2015, Ace launched its wholesale distribution network through the acquisition of Emery Waterhouse in New England and Jensen Distribution Services in the Pacific Northwest. Later that same year, Ace expanded its wholesale operations coast-to-coast with the formation of Emery Jensen Distribution, LLC. This new distribution arm operates under Ace Wholesale Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of Ace Hardware Corporation, and is dedicated to serving non-Ace Hardware independent retailers.
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