You’ve probably heard the jingle dozens of times — “Ace is the place.” And Ace Hardware is indeed the place for many shoppers looking for home improvement or gardening shoppers. It is the world’s largest hardware cooperative and the seventh-largest cooperative of any kind in the U.S., judged by 2020 sales.
Though Ace traces its history to 1924, it didn’t become a cooperative until 1974, when Richard Hesse, co-founder and long-time president, formally sold the hardware company to its retailers. Business had been good, and it really took off as the new dealership-owned company turned to baseball and TV celebrity Joe Garagiola as its national pitchman. Independent retailers became the exclusive shareholders in the company.
Appealing in part to DIY enthusiasts, Ace hit the $1 billion mark in wholesale sales in 1985 and $5 billion in 2015; it registered $7.8 billion in 2020. With 2,800 dealers during the transition now, Ace is up to more than 5,000 stores around the world, adding 54 new ones in the first quarter of 2022.
Just like many electric cooperatives, Ace works to return patronage dividends to its members. What Steven D. Walton, president of Ace during the 1980s, said then is still applicable to the cooperative business model: “We aren’t measured on our earnings, so the whole key to the business is improving our level of productivity.”