Entrepreneurs Compete To Own Ace Hardware Store

Ace Hardware is giving away the store. And when it does, it will have gained brand awareness in all 50 states because of a contest that awards one entrepreneurial winner keys to the chain's newest store. The promotion builds on Ace's overall campaign theme, "Putting a Face on Ace."

The Dream Ace Contest kicked off Jan. 1 and runs through March 15. At DreamAceHardware.com, contestants take an entrepreneurial suitability test and answer three essay questions.

A team of Dream Ace brand ambassadors is traveling the country to promote the event. It includes Bill Rancic, season one winner of "The Apprentice," Lou Manfredini, Ace's "Helpful Hardware Man," and an Ace store owner. The tour will stop at Ace Hardware stores in 40 cities, offering customers giveaways and a chance to meet Rancic and Manfredini.

In February, a panel of third-party judges will select 50 contestants--one per state--to travel to New York City for interviews with the Ace Dream Team and Rancic, after which the field will be narrowed to 12. That dozen will take part in Lou's Boot Camp, an in-store, hands-on competition led by Manfredini. The field will narrow to two.

In mid-March, the final two contestants will attend the Ace National Store Owners Convention in Las Vegas. There they will network with Ace store owners and present their business plans for owning and operating an Ace store. The owners will select the winner, who will get a new Ace Hardware store in Houston or an alternate location at Ace's discretion. The winner opens for business on June 30.

The Dream Ace Contest, which involves more than 4,600 Ace stores in all 50 states, includes national television and radio spots, newspaper advertising, local market radio, a mobile marketing tour, in-store signage, circular advertising, and the Web site. MARS Advertising of Southfield, Mich. and its affiliated companies created, implemented and managed the program.

Last year, the 83-year-old Ace chain recorded a 6.5% increase in wholesale sales, to $3.4 billion, and a record bottom line exceeding $104 million. Two-thirds of its stores are owned independently, and Ace is opening new stores just about every other day, the company said, in a statement.