Ace Hardware, incorporated in 1928 as Ace Stores Inc., was founded to provide a centralized purchasing organization to supply the founders' and members' stores. Its retail network expanded to hundreds of dealers by 1949, when annual sales reached about $10 million.
After Hesse retired in 1973, Ace was sold to its retailers, becoming a cooperative, and the headquarters moved to suburban Oak Brook. Independent owners became dealer-owners and shareholders in the company. Because it's a co-op and not a franchise, each Ace store looks different. Ace has placed a focus on Ace stores exhibiting some similar characteristics, such as signaled and core product lines. The Vision 21 program, as this is called, is aimed to make all stores look recognizable as an Ace Hardware.
As of 2005, the $13 billion retail hardware cooperative is made up of more than 4,600 independent stores in all 50 states of the United States and in 70 different countries. Ace Hardware was named after the Ace fighter pilots of World War I, who were able to overcome all odds. An ACE Hardware store in Springboro, Ohio. Their long-time slogan; The helpful hardware place; has been replaced by The helpful place. Another change came when their longtime jingle — "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man" — was modified with the more gender-neutral "folks" replacing "man." Much of their advertising since 1987 features John Madden, a former NFL coach and announcer.
Prior to Madden, Suzanne Somers was a spokesperson for Ace Hardware but was dropped because of a previously issued topless poster for Maheraja water skis. Home improvement expert Lou Manfredini currently serves as ACE's "Helpful Hardware Man" and media spokesperson.
Ray Griffith currently serves as the President and CEO of ACE Hardware Corporation and has served in that position since taking over for Dave Hodnik in 2005. Hodnik had served as ACE's leader since 1996. David Ziegler serves as Chairman of the Board. ACE Hardware Corporation now does over $3 billion in hardware sales annually and had $12.5 billion in retail sales during 2007.