Change is in the air and there is much hustle and bustle about the Park Falls Ace Hardware store as employees rearrange shelving and displays and remove “Ace” from the hardware store located at the Park Falls Southside Shopping Center.
The hardware store is returning to its foundational roots as a True Value Hardware store, which began in 1974 when the late Arnold Stueber Sr. purchased the property that was then a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. It became Stueber’s True Value and continued as such until purchased by Willis Qualheim on June 1, 2016.
Qualheim is a long-time friend of Jim Stueber, who took over running of True Value upon his father, Arnold’s retirement. It was from Jim that Qualheim purchased the store in 2016. At that time it was under contractual obligations to Ace Hardware, those obligations ended on Dec. 31, 2018.
“Merchandise is constantly changing and evolving,” Qualheim said. He has a long history in the hardware business, having owned a Coast to Coast store with his parents before opening his own True Value store in Shawano. That store has moved several times and now encompasses an area totaling 55,000 square feet.
“My vision for the Park Falls store is simple,” he added. “To continually improve merchandising so that we have the right merchandise at the right price for the customer. That improves their overall shopping experience and makes them a repeat customer.”
“Businesses need to consider local demographics by establishing a service-minded personal relationship atmosphere and feature competitive prices,” store manager Jamey Stueber said. “Moving our business forward while remaining a stable presence for our customers in the Price County area is our ultimate goal.”
Both Qualheim and Stueber noted that with the present changeover merchandise selection will remain much the same as it has been, with the removal of some brands and the addition of several more. The largest changes will occur in the paint, outdoor living and pet supply departments, while the nuts and bolts of hardware stores such as building, plumbing, and electrical supplies will expand to a lesser degree. No staff changes are planned and the switchover from Ace rewards to True Value rewards cards and benefit is underway. Qualheim wants the changeover to be as seamless as possible for all concerned.
Both men feel the change to True Value will make the store more independent rather than driven by a nationally-owned company that establishes sales criteria not necessarily suited to small-town America. They maintain that Ace is a great company, but that it adheres to more of an urban outlook, making it a more urban-driven business model.
Price County is not an urban area and need not be treated as such. While both agree there are positives for doing business under a nationally-owned brand, such as great marketing plans and national advertising across several types of media, there are also drawbacks. The biggest one being that owners are “forced” to purchase goods from specific wholesale outlets and maintenance of costly franchises. These can be huge disadvantages for a small-town business. In its return to True Value it will deal with a different set of wholesalers and retain specific goods at lower costs, which will translate to lower retail prices for consumers.
Stueber is a 2010 graduate of Chequamegon High School in Park Falls who holds a business management degree from UW-Whitewater. His return to Park Falls following college was not necessarily his first plan, but that was how it played out. He felt a need to help out the family-owned business and is happy to be working with Qualheim, since both share a desire to move the business forward and maintain the community focus it has held since its inception.
Qualheim has owned the True Value store in Shawano for 40 years. He served on the Midwest Hardware Association board for 14 years and on the Hardware Marketing Advisory Council for six years. He plans to work closely with the staff in Park Falls to maintain its community-minded vision.
Signage on the store was set to be changed the week of March 11, but due to poor weather conditions that change was postponed to the week of March 18. A grand re-opening for the retrofitted True Value is set for the week preceding Mother’s Day, 2019 with flyers, giveaways and a “Spin to Win” event where various prizes will be given away.