At Palos Ace Hardware, it is Aisle 15.
And “it” is the secret of how some local hardware store owners compete against their big-box counterparts.
The sign inviting customers into the aisle is headed by the words “nuts, washers, fasteners” and the space is considered a treasure trove for customers searching for parts to help them complete a furniture restoration project or an emergency plumbing repair job.
The aisle is a destination place for do-it-yourselfers.
“It’s probably one of the most concentrated number of items in our store per square foot,” said Dan Harris, the store owner at Palos Ace Hardware for the last 14 years. “It’s always those specialty parts—that one unique piece you need and you can’t find it anywhere else. It probably exists in this aisle.
“Like I tell people, if it doesn’t exist here, it probably doesn’t exist at all because there is a piece of everything in this aisle.”
There is a trick in picking that needle out of the haystack—plucking that washer from one of a hundred tiny drawers. And the trick is one that staffers at local hardware stores stand ready to assist in because the little guys know they must work hard to provide a big customer service experience to best the big boys.
Ace Hardware has ranked No. 1 for six consecutive years in the J.D. Powers rankings for “Highest Customer Satisfaction with Home Improvement Retail Stores.”
“Our guys spend a lot of time in those aisles,” Harris said. “We tell them when they have extra time, ‘Go up and down. Pull the drawers out.’ There’s thousands of boxes of little parts. Within each of those boxes, there are another 12 parts.
“So, that still retains that flavor of the old-time hardware store. They had those unique parts that you needed. I love hearing when people come in here and say, ‘I’ve been everywhere and I haven’t found it. You’ve got it.’ That’s like music to my ears. We’ve done our job.”