Local Hooks, Positioning Spark Ace Hardware Loyalty


For Ace Hardware, customer satisfaction isn't just a nice idea -- it's the whole point. The secret, which results in it winning its category again in the 15th annual Brand Keys Loyalty Index, is knowing what makes it different from its competitors.

While both Home Depot and Lowe's are much larger players in the DIY category, "we're very clear that our mission is home maintenance and repair, while they're about home improvement," Rich Neal, who is Ace's One-to-One Manager and oversees Ace Rewards (Ace's consumer loyalty program), tells Marketing Daily. "That's the real difference."

The Oak Brook, Ill.-company, which bills itself as "Ace, the helpful place," has successfully positioned itself as the store that "turns your to-do list into a to-done list." Last week, it broke its new spring advertising campaign, further strengthening that message for suburbanites seeking good-enough solutions to home maintenance.



The new TV ads, themed "Get back your weekend," feature throngs of average homeowners demanding a speedier solution. "Should we spend our weekend wandering in some home improvement warehouse?," chants one, as he rallies the troops. "No -- we should get that garbage disposal fixed by noon!"

Another key driver to loyalty, he says, is the chain's intensely local flavor. Each store is independently owned, and while it is part of a national cooperative with 4,500 stores, "our owners are really embedded in their communities -- they sponsor Little League teams, they belong to local Chambers of Commerce, and they know their stuff. Customers know that." Four years running, the company has ranked first in customer satisfaction, as ranked by JD Powers and Associates.

Neal says the company's Ace Rewards program is also key to keeping its customers happy. "We know our customers want to be spoken to in a more personal manner, rather than in a blast," he says, "so we have a robust analytics team, and follow-up purchases with thank-you emails and direct mail, broken down into eight categories, including grilling and lawn and garden." And while the company is active in social media and testing some mobile rewards efforts, and is about to start its first viral effort, "direct mail continues to be the most effective for us."

Another hit, he says, has been its co-branded credit card with Visa, launched last year. "It offers a very rich value proposition, and we're already seeing some consumers earn crazy-big rewards. We just issued our first $615 rewards check."

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