I can't tell you how many times people have asked me what I think about shopping at Ace Hardware and Home Depot. To understand my answer, you have to consider the amount of information I've collected over the years and how much I take small businesses seriously. When you look at the two stores, it's like a David vs. Goliath showdown — but only in an analogical sense. Read on and I'll explain.
Ace Hardware and Home Depot Company Size
When you compare Ace Hardware vs. Home Depot based on company size, you'll find some surprising things. For one, Home Depot (yes, that actually has "The" in front of the company name) has 2,200 stores, and Ace Hardware actually has about 5,000 stores worldwide. So is Ace Hardware actually bigger than Home Depot?
not so fast.
Ace Hardware stores come in many sizes – each one is different. They also tend to be much smaller in size than the average Home Depot. In contrast, most Home Depot stores have a minimum size (approximately 105,000 square feet).
The average size of an Ace Hardware store is about 30,000 square feet, which means it would take about 3 times as many Ace Hardware stores to match the number of Home Depots.
Do a quick calculation and you'll find that Home Depot has about 231 million square feet of retail space, while Ace Hardware has about 150 million square feet.
Most retail space: Home Depot
Ace Hardware: where it's useful
Ace Hardware bills itself as "the place for useful hardware." Therefore, they focus more on repair and maintenance rather than refurbishment. In contrast, Home Depot and Lowe's include large lumber, roofing, trim and siding supply areas where customers can load materials on pallets.
Want help and advice on your plumbing project? You might get lucky and find someone at Home Depot who knows what they're talking about. However, you're likely to find someone who can only point you in the right direction.
If you need more detailed help, I've found that Ace Hardware tends to have more skilled staff. It could be the structure they run their business in, or it could be the smaller store size. In either case, I tend to — at least in my town — get better advice from the Ace Hardware store. It might be worth spending a little more.
Best Customer Service: Ace Hardware
Ace Hardware and Home Depot Corporate Structure
A key difference when looking at Ace Hardware vs. Home Depot includes the fact that Ace Hardware uses franchises. Compare that to Home Depot, where every single store is owned by the company. This allows Ace to be more responsive to the needs of the community than their larger "one-size-fits-all" competitors.
In our town, that means Ace Hardware can carry replacement parts that are more likely to be needed in a 1920's bungalow home or Florida's 1950's block house. When people come back and forth looking for a particular part, you can bet Ace will find it and put them in so future customers don't need to special order them. I saw toilet parts, antique locks and hinges, air conditioner parts, ballasts and more.
Ace will open 6 more stores in the next 6 months for a total of 8 stores in the next 2 years. This will bring Ace to a total of 54 stores in the metro Atlanta area. This rapid growth in The Home Depot's Backyard is attributed to the high availability of retail space and economy.
Another big difference between Home Depot and Ace Hardware is the brand of tools represented. With a smaller retail space, Ace's number of brands can hardly match Home Depot's. This leads to the selection of strategic partners. As far as we know, in our area, the following are the main power tool brands in each brick and mortar store:
Ace Hardware Tools Brand
- Black & Decker
- milwaukee tools
- Self Strength+
- steel grip
home depot tool brand
- Black + Decker
- cub cadet
- john deere
- milwaukee tools
- Rich Power Tools
- two backup
- troy bilt
However, we feel compelled to mention that both Home Depot and Ace Hardware allow free "ship to store" options, which greatly expands the number of each brand and product. Still, the ability to walk in and get what you want right away makes a big difference when comparing Ace Hardware and Home Depot.
Most brands: Home Depot
Home Improvement & Home Protection
Home Depot tends to focus on home improvement. Ace leans more towards family protection . When the economy slows down, people's wallets tend to get tighter. Instead of tearing down and redoing the bathroom, they seek to fix or improve it. The fact that the stores are franchised rather than company-operated also plays into these strengths. While Home Depot (and Lowe's, for that matter) follow a regional strategy, each Ace franchisee can tailor their stores to the specific flavor of their neighborhood. If people in the community are primarily interested in outdoor activities and projects, they can stock up on more of them. If it's coastal or mountainous, their inventory can reflect that.
However, starting a franchise is no small feat, requiring a net worth of $400,000 and cash of $250,000. Startup fees can run into the cool millions of dollars. Each store can carry over 20,000 products.
Best for local demand and supply: Ace Hardware
wood and building materials
If you want or need lumber or building materials, you really end up going to Home Depot. While Ace certainly has PVC piping, fixtures, and a range of materials, Home Depot blows them away in volume and options. In many cases, you simply won't be able to get the material or quantity you might need at an Ace Hardware store. They don't have room for that kind of volume.
As a result, Home Depot remains the go-to for professionals who need a job done in no time, and Ace Hardware remains a great place to pick up small pieces needed for landscaping, painting a room, installing plumbing, or electrical repair.
Building Supplies and Materials: The Home Depot
Ending the Home Depot vs. Ace Hardware Debate
In our experience, the local Ace Hardware has been a really helpful store, but that's about it. Home Depot and Lowes have been showing lower prices on most products — from tools to electrical and plumbing supplies. It will be interesting to see if Ace can continue to compete in this market. We'll also want to see if they'll keep expanding — and which store will prosper more during the (inevitable) next downturn. Competition is generally good for consumers, so we look forward to seeing results in the coming year.