Tue, August 27, 2019
University Ace Hardware Honored with Beacon Award
August 17, 2019 — University Ace Hardware in Oviedo was one of five retailers honored as Beacon Award winners for 2019 during the 2019 Hardware Conference, held August 16-18, 2019, at the JW Marriott in Marco Island, Fla. The Beacon Awards are a premier national industry awards program developed by The Hardware Connection magazine and The Hardware Conference to recognize the “best of the best” independent hardware/home improvement retailers.
The 2019 Beacon Awards are sponsored by Apex Tool Group, Epicor Software Corporation, Rust-Oleum and Ettore Products Company, with wholesaler sponsorship support from Ace Hardware Corp. and other wholesalers.
The Beacon Awards, now in their seventh year, honored the Retail Beacon Award winners for each of the three participating wholesalers, plus the Best New Stores in two categories: under 20,000 square feet and over 20,000 square feet. University Ace Hardware was honored as the Best New Store under 20,000 square feet.
“This year’s Beacon Award winners are an outstanding group of retailers. They all share similar traits of operating well-merchandised stores with unique niches and strong community involvement,” stated Chris Jensen, editor/founder/principal of The Hardware Connection, the hardware industry’s leading digital publication.
What follows is an overview of University Ace Hardware:
Best New Store Under 20,000 Sq. Ft. —University Ace Hardware, Oviedo, Fla.
University Ace Hardware was previously a Walgreens until Owner Walter Toole and his team at Toole’s Ace Hardware took over and began transforming the building into the perfect hardware store. The team started the transition with an LED conversion, repainted inside and out, polished concrete floors, turned the pharmacy into the back room and converted the photo center into the Stihl department.
Walter Toole has been in the hardware business for over 35 years and is a life-long hardware guy. He is a past president of the National Retail Hardware Association and his store in Winter Garden, Fla., was Ace’s first “Store of the Future” in the state. He got into the business when he and his wife Patty bought Bray Hardware in Winter Garden in 1983. This store dates back to 1906, which makes it a member of The Hardware Connection Century Club.
When University Ace Hardware opened in June 2017 it represented the 10th store for Walter and Toole’s Ace Hardware. Walter’s success has been fueled by an incessant drive to run the best hardware stores in Florida. His partner, Bill Asma, has been with him for nine of the stores. Bill is a lawyer who takes a more passive role in the business, however, his son Neil is extremely active as the general manager. Neil Asma is Walter’s second in command and is poised to take over the business when Walter retires. Walter and Patty’s son, Thomas, takes an active role in the merchandising side of the business, ensuring high standards are maintained.
The 12,000-square-foot store in Oviedo features a customer-friendly layout and some of the best decor, finishes and merchandising in the industry. The store reached Ace’s Platinum level during the first year—even though they only had five months to do it. The following year, they achieved Pinnacle level performance—Ace’s highest level. During their first year, they way outperformed Ace’s expectations and proforma plan.
Understanding the ever-evolving retail landscape, Walter and his team knew how important it was to have the right merchandise. Not only are the shelves bulging with core hardware, the sales floor is filled with niches to excite customers. The large grilling area features Big Green Egg, Traeger and Weber grills and accessories, next to a dominant assortment of Stihl outdoor power equipment. They also carry an expanded assortment of bird, fishing tackle, fishing rods and live bait, along with the premium Benjamin Moore paint brand.
University Ace has been a pilot program for Stihl Power equipment delivery. Customers order Stihl products online and University Ace delivers an assembled piece. Not only does Manager Dan Tanner and the team participate in Ace’s in-store pickup, they also embrace online delivery. “We know the value of staying relevant in the community,” Walter says.
All 10 Toole’s Ace stores support the communities they serve. University Ace works with several organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Haggerty High School and the Kiwanis Club, and they donate products to the University of Central Florida’s engineering department and the Concrete Canoe team. Programs and monetary donations are used to support the Children’s Miracle Network.
“Any time you get an award like this you feel pretty special,” says Walter. “It means that they like what you did. It’s a testament not only to me, but to my staff, to Neal, my son Thomas, everyone who works for me and to Ace Hardware.”
The Hardware Connection
The Hardware Connection is the only magazine designed and distributed solely in an electronic format for independent hardware retailers. With a circulation of more than 60,000, The Hardware Connection has been honored with six awards for editorial excellence in the past five years including the 2017 Eddie Digital Award from FOLIO magazine for Best Standalone Digital Magazine in the B2B category.
The Hardware Conference Now in its 31st year, The Hardware Conference is the industry’s largest gathering of independent hardware retailers regardless of wholesaler affiliation.
University Ace Hardware and other Beacon Award winners will be featured in the September/October 2019 issue of The Hardware Connection magazine. For more information on the Beacon Awards, go to www.thehardwareconnection.com.