There is no question that much of the current success enjoyed by dollar stores comes from their pricing strategies.  Combining aggressive additions of product categories with depth in product lines, after establishing strong reputations for low prices, dollar retailers have been the success story of the recession.

One often overlooked aspect of the success of dollar stores during the recession is that of their clever, aggressive plans of acquisition of neighborhood-based real estate.  In addition to making dollar stores convenient to visit, these neighborhood locations also offer customers efficient visits as opposed to mounting trips to big boxes.

Visits to neighborhood locations require little to no cost in terms of transportation.  As these stores are far smaller than big boxes, they offer customers a shorter, less confusing visit.  Most products are easily found and are at eye-level.  Personal help is usually nearby and easily encountered.

A well situated hardware store can offer many of these same advantages over the big box home improvement center.  In fact, the personal, knowledgeable service offered by hardware stores can make a far greater difference to its customers than that of a dollar store.  Where dollar store shoppers are often looking for the location of a product, customers at hardware stores are seeking answers to issues regarding the suitability of a product for a project, if not requiring distinct instructions for the installation of a product or its use.  Community hardware and paint stores have always scored well above big boxes in terms of personal service and advice.  Ace has used this as a key to its advertising seemingly forever.

Big boxes have long realized the challenge of helping confused customers determine what they need and to how find unfamiliar products, often involving long, maze-like walks amid sky high shelves.  For years Home Depot sought to better assist customers to purchase all that was needed to complete a project, realizing that any missing items would likely be picked up later from a more efficiently, easily shopped venue.

Now Ace has come up with a concept to meet home center customers half way.  The diminutive Ace Express format is designed for urban areas where costly real estate may prohibit a larger store from being truly profitable.  What’s more, at less than 5,000 square feet they can be placed inside an existing store such as a supermarket.

In addition to offering a convenient urban shopping space, the right store-within-a-store format can serve as a win-win for both parties.  In the case of an Ace Express within a supermarket, the Ace store reaps the benefit of almost daily exposure to grocery shoppers as the supermarket essentially gains a number of handy product lines backed by strong customer service.  This flexibility of size and place could gain this format an impressive ability to better compete in a challenging economy.