Interview with Ashland Ace Hardware on Building a Distinguished Power Equipment Business
Virginia’s Ashland Power Equipment works side-by-side with Ashland Ace Hardware to bring a wide selection of products and great service to their customers. The store started out as a hardware business, and later, expanded to include power equipment, which eventually evolved into its own separate brand.
We spoke to Mike Traweek, the General Manager of Ashland Power Equipment, to learn how the brand complements the success of the thriving hardware business.
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Ashland Power Equipment and how you got involved?
Mike: “In 2000, we were predominantly in hardware. Robert Traweek, the owner, was in that industry and bought his own hardware store that also sold power equipment. Although the business was inherited from that purchase, it’s grown over the years.
About 10 years ago, we branded Ashland Power Equipment to distinguish it from the hardware store because it’s become such a large segment of what we do. This is my family’s business, and I came up through the ranks starting from when I was just 10 years old. Today, I’m the General Manager of the power equipment sales, service and parts.”
What would you say separates Ashland Power Equipment from other similar businesses in your area?
Mike: “Between the two brands, we have the largest selection of hardware and power equipment products compared to the other hardware stores in the area. We also have parts, service and a showroom. We don’t have a large warehouse like a big-box store, but we are not small either. We occupy the middle ground in terms of size, and a lot of people seem to like that.”
How does Ashland Power Equipment compete with big-box stores and online retailers like Amazon?
Mike: “Service is our major differentiator overall – for example, we provide service for warranty and repair, which sets us apart from online retailers and big-box stores. Also, our parts department carries a more comprehensive parts list – it is more than just the air filter and blade, for example.”
What’s the overall dynamic between the power equipment business and the hardware store?
Mike: “I wouldn’t operate another power equipment dealership without having the hardware alongside. The amount of foot traffic back and forth is amazing, and the customer count is substantial. It’s interesting how a customer can come in for a 20-cent screw, and then they end up buying a chainsaw. The two businesses go hand-in-hand.”
When did you implement Ideal, and what was the initial reason for getting it in the first place?
Mike: “With our previous software vendor, every time we needed something new, it seemed as though they either couldn’t do it, or they had no interest in developing the product further. If they could make a change, it was an inconvenience, which rendered their software obsolete.
Ideal was Microsoft Windows®-based, very user-friendly and easy to learn – those qualities really sold us on the software.
We implemented Ideal in December of 2014 and had on-site training.”
What are some of the must-haves when it comes to a system like Ideal?
Mike: “First, it needs to be user-friendly. Everything that the system does should make your life easier. In this industry, it should be straightforward to do everyday functions such as adding items, creating price structures and reordering points. It defeats its purpose, if you have to do a workaround.”
Were there any specific features or functionalities that attracted you to Ideal versus what you had before?
Mike: “To look up parts, you don’t have to memorize the part number or search online. We could find what we were looking for because the system would simply pull up a list of items, and we could pick it from there. It was much easier than our other system and it got us where we needed to go.”
What are some of the highlights of the implementation process?
Mike: “The data conversion was much easier than we expected. We weren’t the best in terms of our customer and inventory data which was a concern. When we started, the process was hands-off; we had to export the data, and Ideal took it from there. The system reported the issues that required a fix, which were minimal in our case; we were happy with that.
The training was excellent. The cost included five days on-site, counting the setup and the training. Our trainer was fantastic when he was here, and we felt good when we were on our own afterwards. We were confident about using the system.”
What part of Ideal has helped your business the most?
Mike: “The ability to manipulate pricing has helped us a great deal. We can create structures that help us compete with online retailers and big-box stores. We can be as precise as a single item or as broad as an entire vendor and everything in-between. We can exempt items, if needed, which provides us with the ability to give our customers the best value.”
How much has Ideal contributed to your overall success?
Mike: “We could not have grown to where we are now in terms of pricing and inventory without Ideal. We wouldn’t be as efficient as we are today, and that will become even more important as we move forward. The industry keeps getting more streamlined and efficient, so we need to have more control and better visibility on what’s going on inside the dealership.”
How has Ideal changed your professional life?
Mike: “The system has improved my professional life overall and it has given me a clearer understanding of the numbers. I have a better grasp of ‘how to order,’ ‘what to order’ and ‘when to order.’
I make more evidence-based decisions with the data from Ideal. As I have better information, I can adapt to the markets when change is happening. Without the information that I’m getting from Ideal, I wouldn’t be as successful at Ashland Power Equipment as I am now.”