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Hardware store expands, storeroom turns retail

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Ace Hardware owner Dave Johnson planned to expand and change the store when he bought it last March.

So when the slow season came recently, he and 10 store employees dug into the task of expansion.

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Johnson converted a 1,200-square foot storage building into more retail display space. The store at 1163 N. Main will carry some new items plus expand several existing product lines.

The owner said work started Dec. 20 and will finish March 1, about one month ahead of schedule. He said the process has involved moving around absolutely everything.

"...All 17,000 items," Johnson said.

Customers can now find Toro and Lawn Boy brand mowers along with Benjamin Moore paint.

"It's a value-added product," he said of the latter, "a real high-quality paint."

He said the brand offers many colors, mixing services and a perfect match to any color. Tentative buyers can carry home the MatchStik device, which captures whatever color they want to match -- on a sofa, wallpaper, floor or wherever.

Ace's display of Stihl-brand power equipment grew bigger. More room has also allowed for a bigger selection of some items, such as 3M hooks and adhesive products plus the latest cleaning supplies like Swiffer mops.

Johnson said, "The other part we're really expanding is the lawn and garden."

Come spring, customers will see a lot more landscaping products outside. The store has already ordered two semi-truck loads of mulch.

He said the expansion includes more fertilizers, yard tools and live plants. Shoppers will also find a selection of Weber grills available.

Johnson said Ace will continue to let customers rent heavy equipment including skid steers, excavators, mowing tractors, trailers and the Toro Dingo -- a multipurpose walk-behind machine that digs trenches, grinds stumps, moves dirt and bores holes.

He said Ace provides its proprietors training, education and statistics to help them grow business. Beyond that, Johnson said he listens to the community and watches for need.

Nearby customers from the industrial park stop in for supplies. People ask for specialty items. All those influences affect the retailer's strategy.

The sounds of local radio station WEVR float through the store, often with Lund's store owner Fred Benson speaking in a paid spot about hardware issues.

Johnson smiles at the irony of his rival's voice in the store and says, "It's the only radio station we can get in this metal building."

He adds that he's friendly with Benson. Johnson thinks each shop has its own niches and that there's "plenty of business in town for both."

Johnson has owned another store in Roseville, Minn., since 1991 and said it's a bit of a different market there -- more urban than River Falls. Customer service remains a focus in both stores.

He said business has been good since he bought the store last year. It's growing enough that he hopes to expand the store's staff from 10 employees to 15 by this fall.

"It's a good group," he said about the people who've helped him build business and expand the store.

Reach Debbie Griffin at dgriffin@rivertowns.net or 426-1048.

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