Linda and I have occasionally done business with Eastern Shore ACE Hardware in Spanish Fort over the years. Linda first discovered it while looking for nice wharf chairs for friends in Point Clear. I remember her telling me how nice the owner was. She did indeed have some chairs made and delivered. They were a big hit, and are still in use today.

I go there to get replacement parts for my grill. When you walk into the store, the people are so friendly and helpful. The store is also well-kept and clean, with lots of items you may not see at a typical hardware store. So when I noticed a new ACE Hardware store on Hwy 181 in Daphne, I called to schedule a meeting with the owner, Steve Ascik. I’m glad I did!

We met at PJ's Coffee Shop which is in the same shopping center as the Spanish Fort Ace Hardware. It turns out Steve is from Selma, graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in marketing, and had a very interesting and successful career in the business world, primarily in sales and marketing.

Steve’s work history involves boosting sales everywhere he landed, including a twenty-year stint with a world-renowned sunglasses company, helping to take a company with $12 million in sales to over $320 million as a style marketer with licensed brands. He traveled all over the world meeting with manufacturers, licensors like Disney and Revlon, and large retail chains in North America and Europe. 

Toward the end of his career, he was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Procurement. “A troubleshooter,” he says as the company acquired other businesses. “Anytime I wanted something to spice up my life, I was given an opportunity. I had a blast.”  Eventually, the company was bought out and Steve stayed another year to help with the transition. He says at age 51 he’d been working since he was 11 years old and wasn’t ready to retire. 

Soon, he was contacted by a corporate recruiter for a position at a manufacturing company in Robertsdale, AL. “I knew the area since I had spent two summers at Camp Cullen in Point Clear as a boy.” (He still remembers the camp song) He and his family moved from Ormond Beach, FL to Fairhope in 2014.

A short time later, he resigned from the position and began considering what he would do next. His wife, Alisa, taught at Bayside Academy where his daughter was in high school. “Find something you really want to do but we want to stay here,” she said. 

Steve had watched the Ormond Beach ACE Hardware go from mediocre to great, and it caught his attention. He called the new business development manager for ACE, who happened to be in Daphne. They scheduled a meeting to discuss opening an Ace Hardware on the Eastern Shore. 

“I was considering two different businesses at the time. I  was visiting some college buddies in Gulf Shores for a weekend and told them about what I was thinking. They said that even though the other business would be less work and less expensive, there is something in your eyes that says “Ace is the Place.”

Steve studied his options for six months, made his decision in August, and opened Ace Hardware in Spanish Fort in December 2015. “I’ve loved it ever since.” He goes on to say he never really understood how important “local” is, having worked both nationally and internationally for so many years. “People in this area will really support you. We are so glad we are here.”

The company has been around since it was founded in Chicago in 1924, by hardware store owners as a co-op to enhance purchasing power. Today, Ace is a $9 billion company whose whole purpose and focus is to ensure that local owners are successful in their communities.

I asked Steve what makes Ace Hardware so special. “Every Ace is allowed to operate independently. “The beauty of Ace Hardware is you do what you do, and they will support you in any way they can. Its CEO, John Venhuizen, is amazing. He took over a particularly challenging task of rebuilding the brand and updating operations, determined to make it better. Market share and customer recognition were declining and Ace made bold and progressive moves to turn it around. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Our store is unique,” he says. “We have a very diverse customer base here and more than half of our Ace Rewards customers are women, something you might not have expected back in the day.” Steve carries grills including the Big Green Egg, Weber, and Traeger. They carry Benjamin Moore paint and have a significant focus on outdoor needs like fertilizers, seeds, mulches, and live goods during the spring season. “But our primary offering is always “Helpful.”

He carries 32,000 items, but if he doesn’t have what you’re looking for, the ACE Hardware distribution warehouse is just down the road in Loxley. They carry over 120,000 items and service four states, so he can have whatever you need in short order. His stores are clean, neat, and well-organized, but it’s the people that truly make the difference. “Every day we get comments from customers thanking us for just being here.”  

So far, Steve says he hasn’t had trouble finding employees. “We hire people who enjoy the work and want to create a positive work environment." He has three requirements for working in his stores: First, you must really like helping people, Second, you have to really enjoy working as a team, Third, you must really like staying busy. He says he gets a significant number of compliments on his high school co-op employees. 

On June 1 this year, Steve opened his second Eastern Shore ACE Hardware store in Daphne on Hwy 181 near County Road 64. I asked him why a second store. “The Spanish Fort location had really hit its stride and the manager there was on top of it. So I decided I would seek a new challenge and look for a second location. Most of the growth seems to be on the eastern side of the Eastern Shore between Malbis and Fairhope."

He started looking for an existing property to lease, and when he couldn’t find anything suitable, he purchased a property and built a new store from the ground up. He says that being close to Allegri Farm Market is a draw. “We’re next to a destination in Allegri, and as an intercept for customers headed north to the big box stores. In both cases, new customers are surprised by the selection we have here.”

He admits that it's a stretch going from a senior executive position to owning two ACE Hardware stores. “It’s a different animal,” he says. “I had to transition from delegating tasks to actively participating, and it took me 18 months to get really comfortable. ACE has developed a beautiful model, but we’re keeping a lot of plates spinning at once.” 

At the end of the day, Steve says he really enjoys the challenge and the people he works with.  Be sure to stop by Ace Hardware in Spanish Fort or the new Ace Hardware on Hwy 181 in Daphne. We are certainly glad you are here. The Scenic 98 Coastal community is better for it. We wish you continued success for you and your family in all your endeavors!

Sep 20, 2023
People & Business Profiles

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