Early in this century, there was an aura of gloom and doom surrounding many community-based hardware retailers. As store founders retired, they saw that few prospective buyers were stepping up. Founding families often seemed to run out heirs interested in competing in so challenging a market.

Ace Hardware and its contemporary cooperatives have been very active in seeking and training successors to successfully run local hardware stores, domestically and abroad.  Their training and marketing programs have allowed many local retailers to compete with their big box and Internet-based competition.  Ace’s enormous buying power and its private label program have been a huge factor in growing the local hardware success story.

Currently, major retailers see same day/instant delivery as a holy grail.  Led by Amazon, Internet-based retailers view the lag between the time a customer places an order and the wait to physically receive it and actually enjoy the purchase as a major advantage for traditional brick and mortar stores.

The old-fashioned way of shopping has always provided even casual shoppers instant gratification.  This is a major factor behind consumer delight in impulse purchases.  Lag time after suddenly deciding on acquiring an item one hadn’t even previously considered, tends to compromise the rush of the impulse.

Independent hardware stores have long been challenged by the buying power and pricing economies of the home center warehouse giants.  Lately, the growth of Internet retailing and those efficient economies, have added yet another challenge to the survival of the traditional neighborhood store.

Ace Hardware, long the industry-leading co-op, has recently put into place a couple of programs designed to take away pretty much any edge that an online retailer might have exploited.   Early this year, Ace revealed a new program being tested prior to a nationwide rollout.  The program is termed Express Delivery and offers same day delivery for customers who order by 1 p m.

Ace estimates that over 60 percent of its customers live within five miles of their Ace dealer.  Thus same-day delivery to those customers is seen as a service long overdue and very doable.

This service can be invaluable to customers who are in a rush to finish a project.  It also allows people to shop Ace whose vehicle isn’t large enough to accommodate a desired order.  This should open Ace dealers to better serve job sites whose members may not have the time to visit a store during parts of a project or need to replace suddenly out-of-service tools.

The initial charge for the Express Delivery service is five dollars.  Most Ace customers are homeowners, managers of apartment complexes or do it yourselfers.  A solid delivery service could gain Ace additional clientele from the realm of professional builders.  Builders and apartment managers would likely willingly pay this small fee to enjoy the convenience of Express Delivery.

While retailers such as Amazon and Walmart are seemingly in a race to achieve nearly instantaneous delivery, this Ace project tells a different story.  Under this program, Ace stores stand to gain notoriety as a helping hand in the community by offering sound advice, along with deliveries of sometimes cumbersome product combinations needed to complete an expensive, important project.

As if this service wasn’t enough to entice customers to do business with their local Ace store, the company then announced another new service.  The co-op’s newest service is termed Free Store Pickup. This service allows customers to check their local Ace store’s available inventory online at the corporate website.  Customers can then either visit their favorite Ace store knowing that the relevant items will be awaiting them, or they can place the order online and pick it up in-store the same day in most cases.  Of course if the purchase proves to be cumbersome Express Delivery is available.

Both of these new services should allow local Ace stores to better compete with Internet-based retailers.  More importantly, the added services place an increased focus on the individual retail location and underline the advantages of brick and mortar locations.

Same day delivery is generally intended by most retailers to offer consumers something akin to instant gratification.  For Ace store customers, professionals and do it yourselfers alike, these new services may well make the difference in completing a project on time or completing it at all.