by Katie Gallagher
Photos by Julie Wiatt
Gina Schafer never had any background in the hardware industry, but when opportunity knocked, she answered and never looked back.
“It’s a big joke in our family,” Schafer said, “but I always wanted to own my business.”
Since opening her first store in 2003, Schafer now owns seven stores with the addition of the Old Takoma location this June. The 6,500 square foot space will hold about 20,000 items, Schafer said.
ACE Hardware is a national Co-op that Schafer says she and her husband and business partner decided to choose because they liked the ACE program and enjoyed that the co-op was adding many more stores.
Gina and Mark Schafer pose in front of their newest hardware store.
“We didn’t know at the time how good it was going to be,” she said.
Schafer says the overwhelming positive reaction from the Takoma Park
community has made her excited for the opening. Schafer calls the paint
and lawn and garden sections of her store’s “bread and butter,” and
because of this she knew Takoma Park would make a great location.
With all of the older homes, Schafer thinks Takoma Park residents will
enjoy the paint and lawn and garden sections of the new store.
Roz Grigsby, director of the Old Takoma Business Association,
welcomes Ace to town.
Schafer’s store began a founding customers program to interact with the
customers and gauge their needs prior to the opening of the store in
March of 2010.
The founding customer’s program, which is comprised of about 450
customers, receives updates and pictures of the store’s progress, along
with biweekly coupons that they can redeem when the store opens.
“We’re most excited about being a staple in the community and giving
everyone an easy way to get things they need,” Schafer said. “The thing
that really got us into the hardware business was wanting to get basic
things, and wanting to be able to walk there and Takoma Park really has
Schafer says weekly events such as the downtown farmer’s market are
great opportunities for her store to interact with many different
customers, and hopes that eventually ACE can be involved in the market.
“The business association in Takoma Park was really great, they helped
us get the word out, and published our contact information, she said.
“Advertising is really expensive and it’s a really great way for us to
do word-of-mouth,” which is how Schafer says she hopes word about the
new store, continues to spread.
In addition to feedback from the founding customers, Schafer says that
Takoma Park residents have requested that many green items be present
in the store, and ACE plans to deliver.
Schafer is most excited about the store carrying Mythic paint, which is
one of the greenest paints in the industry, difficult to find and very
high end. The store will also carry greener lawn and garden materials
as well as green cleaning products.
The new store, which will be the fifth location in the Washington,
D.C., metropolitan area and two stores in Baltimore city, has also
intentionally left space on their shelves to fill the store with items
catered to Takoma Park’s particular needs.
Members of Takoma Zone hammer out a few songs
at the Grand Opening of the new store.
“We make sure there is space so when people say they need certain
things, we begin brining them in regularly,” Schafer said. “Our ACE
warehouse is just south of Richmond, which means we can get things very
easily if customers know ACE carries it. It gives us a great
opportunity to add to our customer service.”
As she’s faced before, many people look at Schafer and cannot believe
that a woman can effectively manage a hardware store. While Schafer
often gets the credit, she humbly admits that her husband is her
business partner and has continued to support her businesses throughout
their years in the hardware industry.
While she appreciates her husband allowing her to receive most of the
credit, Schafer also enjoys proving her abilities. She admits that her
gender was more of an issue with the opening of her first few stores,
but still Schafer enjoys being a rare site in the hardware world.
“I think honestly from a PR perspective, it’s given us a chance to tell
our story,” she said. Schafer hopes that from the welcome reception in
Takoma Park, her story will only continue to happily unfold.