Spreading its wares

Housewares get increased emphasis in Ace at the Curve, which opens next month

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Longtime customers may be taken aback late next month when they walk through the doors of the new Ace at the Curve hardware store in Elk River Crossing. For certain, they won't recognize the place.

At first glance, the store is much bigger than the old True Value store in Riverside Center. The ceilings are higher, and the paint department has been placed front and center.

However, the biggest change may be the increased emphasis on housewares and accessories. More space is being devoted to kitchenware, shelving and storage products and, for the first time, linens and towels.

General Manager Scott Schlapkohl said housewares manager Tobi Duncan has seen her department grow from about 1,500 square feet in the old store to more than 3,500 square feet in the new location.

"We have several new lines of ready-to-assemble furniture and more lighting," Schlapkohl said.

The linen collection will range from bargain-price lines to higher quality products measured by higher thread counts, he said.

The front corner of the store, which is wrapped in large windows and infused with light, has been devoted to a larger collection of kitchen glassware.

The increased emphasis in housewares keeps with principal owner Denny Swanson's True Value store in Glenwood Springs, where almost half the sales floor is devoted to housewares.

Swanson, who owns the True Value store in town, purchased the former Curve Market grocery store earlier in the year. Employees are stocking shelves and installing signage in preparation for the store's move to Elk River Crossing. Swanson opted to convert his Steamboat store to an Ace affiliation while leaving his Glenwood store under the True Value flag.

Glenwood already has an Ace store, but Steamboat Lumber dropped the affiliation here. In the process, Schlapkohl and fellow manager Doug Post have taken on an equity position in the Steamboat store. They have been with the business since it opened in Riverside Center 20 years ago.

Swanson said it's important to him that the community understand that his store is not a chain store. Swanson, together with Schlapkohl and Post, are members and owners of the Ace cooperative.

The number of employees at the stores (True Value is still open until Ace at the Curve opens) has grown to 25 from 12. Employees and department managers like working for Swanson, they say, because he listens and responds to their ideas on how to improve the store.

The new store offers 26,000 square feet of space, up from 14,500 square feet at the old location. The sales floor will grow from 12,500 to 19,500 square feet.

Customers may not appreciate one of the biggest changes, which affects employees -- instead of unloading delivery trucks in the parking lot and ferrying pallets through the front door at night, workers in shipping and receiving will have a modern loading dock at the rear of the store.

Ace offers two regular deliveries a week from its Colorado Springs warehouse, instead of the single delivery available from True Value, Schlapkohl said. That makes it easier to accommodate special orders from customers, he added.

The checkstand has been expanded to four registers, and the credit card confirmation process has been upgraded to a wireless network that takes just seconds to clear cards.

What customers also will notice is that virtually every department of the store has been expanded, now stocking merchandise that was never available. For example, Schlapkohl said, the rear of the store will offer a selection of "convenience lumber." For do-it-yourselfers, that means they will be able to run out in the evening and grab a couple of 2-by-4 planks to complete a project.

Under the guidance of Ace, Schlapkohl said, the paint department has been given a spot near the front of the store with a prominent desk of its own. The department has been expanded by four aisles and 6,000 square feet. The selection of spray paint alone has grown from 12 feet of aisle to 20 feet and includes Rustoleum for the first time.

Like the old store, the new store will be packed with merchandise. But Schlapkohl said a team from Ace helped with the layout of the departments and the display shelves within them to give the store a more open feel.

"The visual merchandisers from Ace are unbelievable," Schlapkohl said. "They accomplished in several hours what would have taken us days."

The "power aisle," which runs down the middle of the store, has been expanded from 12 feet to 16 feet. The ceilings range in height from 14 feet to 28 feet. That compares to the 11- to 13-foot ceilings at the old store.

The higher ceilings allow for better signage over the aisles. Even with higher ceilings, the overall height of the shelves or "gondolas," as they say in the business, has been brought down to 7 feet. Customers no longer will have to ask for assistance to get merchandise down from the top shelf.

Ace at the Curve will stock some lines of merchandise outdoors, as it did at the old location. But there will be a noticeable difference: Lawn and garden supplies will be enclosed within a decorative wrought-iron enclosure on the east end of the building, as will patio furniture and other seasonal items on the front of the building.

The traditional hardware section at Ace at the Curve has not been overlooked. Department manager Kirk Wishon has expanded lines that can offer specialty items not previously stocked. For example, maintenance foremen for local property management companies can now find a good selection of PVC plumbing couplings that are meant to stand up to the temperature and pressure extremes generated by hot tubs.

Entire aisles have been devoted to the nuts and bolts offered by Hillman, and the hardware items such as hinges and coat hooks supplied by National.

"It's going to make shopping a lot easier," Wishon said.

Schlapkohl said he wants his customers to know that the expensive new building won't translate into higher prices at the register.

"The main thing I can tell you is our prices will be the same or better," Schlapkohl said. His goal is to pick some items in the store, specific power tools, for example, which always will be offered at "rock bottom" retail prices.

Although it's only September and Ace at the Curve may not open for another month, it already is beginning to look like Christmas at the new store. Stockers are putting Christmas decor and winter merchandise on the shelves in anticipation of the changing of the seasons.

Ironically, when Ace opens, it will still be selling True Value seasonal items. That's because Schlapkohl and his staff ordered their Christmas lights and decorations last May.

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