Home Posts tagged Rocky’s Ace Hardware
Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers, held a groundbreaking ceremony on June 19 for a new, expanded store in the South Hadley Plaza at 501 Newton St., which is co-owned locally by the Falcone, Picknelly, and Yee families. The anticipated opening of the new store is March 2025, replacing the existing store in the same plaza.

“This is going to be a 13,000-square-foot new building, all new construction,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President and CEO Rocco Falcone II said. “We will be relocating from a 10,000-square-foot store, expanding the sales floor and adding a 2,000-square-foot garden center for live plants, Christmas trees, and things of that nature.”

Plans for the new Rocky’s store also include expanded paint and grilling centers, as well as a workwear department featuring the Carhartt brand.

“We’ll carry all the quality name brands we’re known for, such as Benjamin Moore paint; Weber, Traeger, and Big Green Egg in grilling; and Milwaukee, Dewalt, Stihl, Ego, and Craftsman in power tools, to name a few,” Falcone said. “We’ve got a big partnership with Scotts in lawn and garden, and the indoor and outdoor power-equipment department is going to be a knock-your-socks-off experience.”

Falcone noted that, when the Falcone, Picknelly, and Yee families purchased the plaza in 2016, it contained an empty former grocery store and wasn’t being used to its potential. He said the second phase of the project, slated to begin in March 2025 in conjunction with Way Finders, is to construct a six-unit apartment building.

Edison Yee, a partner in the project, said, “I grew up in the town of South Hadley, and in the late ’70s and early ’80s, this used to be our hangout, a gathering spot for meeting up for the night. There used to be a Friendly’s and a Waldbaum’s grocery store. Waldbaum’s closed in 2013, and it’s been relatively dormant since then. I think this revitalization signifies a new era for South Hadley, to hopefully bring the community together and back to this area.”

Falcone said he remembers signing the lease on the South Hadley store back in the ’80s. “It was our seventh store location, and now we have 50. We’re pretty excited to become more ingrained into the South Hadley community as a property owner and not just a tenant.”

The current Rocky’s store will remain open with minimal disruptions during construction and will be available for lease after the store moves to its new home. Construction of the new store is being led by Caolo & Bieniek Architects and Inglewood General Contractors, in conjunction with Falcone Development.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 50 locations in nine states, is kicking off its semiannual Round Up for Kids fundraiser. Throughout the campaign, which extends throughout the month of April, customers are asked to round up their purchase total to the next dollar. The difference will be donated to Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Hospitals.

“Round Up for Kids has become one of our signature fundraisers each year,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “It’s a cause our customers, staff, and community really get behind. CMN helps more than 12 million kids each year who receive care from a dedicated children’s hospital to get the best possible medical treatment.”

As in the past, 100% of the money raised benefits the local CMN hospital nearest to each store. Local participating Rocky’s locations include the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield as well as the Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley stores. The proceeds will be donated to Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield.

“This is a busy season for us as folks come in to get what they need for spring cleanup and summer outdoor living,” Falcone said. “It may not seem like a lot to round up a purchase to the next dollar, but every bit adds up. We anticipate another very successful campaign thanks to the generosity of our customers.”

For more than 40 years, CMN has helped fill funding gaps, raising more than $8.5 billion for 170 children’s hospitals by empowering and engaging with local communities and businesses. All donations fund what’s needed most, like critical life-saving treatments and healthcare services, innovative research, vital pediatric medical equipment, child life services, and financial assistance for families.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 48 locations in nine states, has launched its 13th annual campaign supporting animal shelters. Through the Round Up for Pets fundraiser, which extends through Sunday, Dec. 31, customers are asked to round up their purchase total to the next dollar. The difference will be donated to local animal shelters.

“Our pets bring so much joy to our lives, and many of the people on our team have adopted from local shelters over the years,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President and CEO Rocco Falcone II said. “We’re honored to support the work being done to provide these animals with love and care while they wait to find their forever homes.”

Participating Rocky’s locations include the stores on Island Pond Road and Liberty Street in Springfield and the stores in Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley.

Local shelters that will benefit from the year’s round-up include the Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center and Dakin Humane Society in Springfield, Second Chance Animal Services in East Brookfield, and Westfield Animal Control and Shelter.

“It warms our hearts to be able to make a difference for these animals, especially at a time when they are more likely to be forgotten,” Falcone said. “We are lucky to have such generous customers who allow us to make this happen, and we are grateful for their support.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 47 locations in nine states, kicked off the season of giving in November with its semi-annual Round Up for Kids fundraiser, raising a grand total of $25,908 across all participating locations. Customers were asked to round up their purchase total to the next dollar, and the difference was donated to Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals.

“We are thrilled with the results of this Round Up campaign, which really gets us in the holiday spirit each year,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “CMN helps the more than 10 million kids each year who rely on care from a children’s hospital to get the best possible medical treatment.”

This was the third Round Up for Kids fundraiser Rocky’s has held this year, with 100% of the money raised going to benefit local CMN hospitals, including Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield.

Participating Rocky’s locations included the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield and the stores in Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley.

Since 1983, CMN hospitals have helped fill funding gaps by raising more than $7 billion. Its various fundraising partners and programs support the nonprofit’s mission to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 47 locations in nine states, has launched its 12th annual “Round Up for Pets” fundraiser. Throughout the campaign, which extends through Saturday, Dec. 24, customers are asked to round up their purchase total to the next dollar. The difference is donated to local animal shelters.

“Animals add a lot of joy to our lives all year long, and we wanted to do something for those who have not yet found their forever homes,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “Our local shelters rely on community support to provide animals in transition with the love and care they desperately need.”

Participating Rocky’s locations include the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield and the stores in Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley.

Local shelters that will benefit from the year’s round-up include the Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center, Concerned Citizens for Animals, the Homeless Cat Project, Agawam Friends of Homeless Cats, Second Chance Animal Services, Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, and Westfield Animal Shelter.

“We are proud to continue our support for local animal shelters,” Falcone said. “We are grateful for the services they provide and look forward to another successful campaign thanks to the generosity of our customers.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers, was recently awarded the Award of Excellence in Retail by the Retailers Assoc. of Massachusetts and inducted into the Retail Hall of Fame. Recipients are nominated by their industry peers and local chambers of commerce and are recognized for their overall excellence, innovation, and service within the retail industry.

“We’re really excited to be inducted into the Retail Hall of Fame,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “We thank all our associates who made this possible. We call them our ‘red-vested heroes.’ We’d also like to thank our customers for supporting us for the last 96 years.”

Falcone’s grandfather, also named Rocco but nicknamed Rocky, opened the first Rocky’s in 1926 in Springfield. In 1966, Rocky’s son James began running the business, eventually expanding to a successful seven-store chain before affiliating with the Ace Hardware Co-op. James’ son Rocco is the third generation of the family to serve as president. Rocky’s Ace Hardware now has 47 locations in nine states: Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Rocco’s son John represents the fourth generation to join the family business, currently serving as the company’s director of Merchandising. He attributes the success of the company to its three core values.

“We focus on service, convenience, and quality,” John Falcone said. “The customer’s expectation when coming into our store is that we’re going to have very helpful associates. It’s our team’s expectation that we will provide much better service here than you’ll get at any big-box store.”

The Retailers Assoc. of Massachusetts Awards of Excellence were created in 1998 as a way to acknowledge retail excellence in the Commonwealth. Throughout their history, these awards have honored small and large retailers, rookies and veterans, identifying hidden gems from all corners of the state.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 47 locations in nine states, is kicking off the season of giving with its semi-annual “Round Up for Kids” fundraiser. Throughout the campaign, which extends through Monday, Nov. 28, customers are asked to round up their purchase total to the next dollar. The difference is donated to Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals.

“This Round Up really gets us in the holiday spirit each year,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “CMN helps the more than 10 million kids each year who rely on care from a children’s hospital to get the best possible medical treatment.”

This is the third “Round Up for Kids” fundraiser Rocky’s has held this year, with 100% of the money raised going to benefit local CMN hospitals, including Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield and Connecticut Children’s Hospital and Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, both in Connecticut.

Participating Rocky’s locations include the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield; the Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley stores in Massachusetts; and the Vernon and Stamford locations in Connecticut.

Since 1983, CMN hospitals have helped fill funding gaps by raising more than $7 billion. Its various fundraising partners and programs support the nonprofit’s mission to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible.

“We are proud to continue our support for CMN and the important work they do for children in our community,” Falcone said. “We look forward to another very successful campaign thanks to the generosity of our customers.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers, will celebrate the reopening of its Agawam location on Saturday, Oct. 22. After almost a year of construction, renovations to the store are complete, adding new features for both homeowners and contractors. The celebration begins at 9:30 a.m. at 10 Springfield St. in Agawam and will feature a board-cutting ceremony, raffle prizes, demonstrations, activities for kids, and much more.

“This renovation has allowed us to expand options for our customers and offer a more well-rounded shopping experience,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “Aside from a complete indoor and outdoor remodel, we have added full fishing and Carhartt departments to the store, as well as expanded tool and grill departments. We are really excited to show off these renovations to our new and returning customers.”

Since October is Fire Safety Month, the event will include a booth with information and products to help families ensure they are prepared for emergencies, along with a fire truck for children to explore. There will also be a limited number of pumpkins for sale for kids to decorate.

“We are excited to celebrate our reopening with the community and hope families come out to have fun with us,” Falcone continued. “We will have some great prizes to raffle off, including grills, smokers, a Carhartt shopping spree, a Benjamin Moore room makeover package, and much more. We will also be collecting donations for Children’s Miracle Network to benefit Baystate Children’s Hospital. Stop by to take advantage of limited-time offers and check out the newly renovated store.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Health and Rocky’s Ace Hardware are joining forces with Square One to help keep the community’s children safe and healthy. Specifically, they are coming together to respond to the need for electrical-outlet safety, based on the fact that each year, across the nation, more than 2,400 children suffer from severe shock and burns from exposed electrical outlets.

The partnership was prompted by UMass Chan Medical School – ­Baystate student Kendall Burdick, who had the idea to support Square One’s families by providing electrical-outlet safety plugs to all Square One households. From there, the team at Rocky’s Ace Hardware stepped in to donate thousands of outlet plugs to support the safety initiative.

Square One currently provides early-learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family support services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 47 locations in nine states, will host a Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) bucket-sale fundraising campaign in eight Western Mass. stores and two Connecticut stores, with 100% of all money raised going to benefit CMN hospitals.

Customers can purchase a bucket for $5 and receive 20% off all regularly priced items they fit in the bucket from Friday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 7 at the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield; the Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley stores in Massachusetts; and the Vernon and Stamford locations in Connecticut.

“This is such a great way to give back to sick children in our area as well as provide our customers with a great discount at the same time,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “CMN helps more than 10 million kids each year who rely on care from a children’s hospital. We are proud to give back to the communities we serve in such a meaningful way and know this is important to our customers as well.”

To provide the best care for kids, Children’s Miracle Network hospitals rely on donations and community support, as Medicaid and insurance programs do not fully cover the cost of care. Since 1983, CMN hospitals have helped fill funding gaps by raising more than $7 billion. Its various fundraising partners and programs support the nonprofit’s mission to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Eastern States Exposition (ESE), home of the Big E, announced a new partnership, naming Rocky’s Ace Hardware an official presale partner of the Big E. Through this partnership, Rocky’s and ESE have joined together to utilize a locally owned platform in selling tickets to the 2022 Big E.

ESE and Rocky’s have developed a ticketing initiative that will allow fairgoers to purchase 2022 advance discount tickets, advance pay-one-price Midway Magic passes, value passes, and Big E Arena concert tickets through the Rocky’s mobile circular digital app and at www.rockys.com.

This partnership offers a multitude of impactful opportunities across Rocky’s 47 locations throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

“We are thrilled to partner with Rocky’s Ace Hardware,” ESE President and CEO Gene Cassidy said. “Two outstanding local, Western Massachusetts organizations, joining forces to offer tremendous value to their mutual consumers, is a goal we strive to reach. This year we made that happen; now you can conveniently save time and money at Rocky’s and the Big E.”

Daily News

 

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers, will celebrate the reopening of its Liberty Street, Springfield location on April 23. 

After months of construction, renovations to the store are complete, adding new features for both homeowners and contractors. 

The reopening celebration begins at 10 a.m. and will feature a board-cutting ceremony, raffle prizes, demonstrations, activities for young people and much more. 

“This renovation has allowed us to expand our paint options and cater to both those who make a living in construction as well as weekend warriors tackling home projects on their own,” said Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone. “Inside the Liberty Street location, we have built a paint store within the store, offering a grander range of products. This new and innovative setup offers high-quality products for all our customers.” 

The new space also offers expanded paint selections for contractors and a separate, more convenient entrance for them. This location also employs a master paint specialist who can help customers select and purchase any paint products they need, offering expert advice on everything from colors to the tools needed for the job. 

The store will also be collecting donations for Children’s Miracle Network to benefit Baystate Children’s Hospital. 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 47 locations in nine states, will host a ‘round-up’ fundraising campaign in eight Western Mass. stores and one Connecticut store with 100% of money raised going to benefit Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Hospitals. Customers can round up their totals to the next dollar between April 13 and April 25 at the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield; the Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer and South Hadley stores in Massachusetts; and the Vernon, Conn. location.  

 “We are very excited to be raising funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals again this year,” said Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone. “This great cause helps the more than 10 million kids each year who rely on care from a children’s hospital to get the best possible medical treatment. We hope our customers will help us in our goal of providing as much support as possible to our local CMN Hospitals.” 

 Since 1983, CMN Hospitals have helped fill funding gaps by raising more than $7 billion. Its various fundraising partners and programs support the nonprofit’s mission to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible. 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD  Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers, has purchased the nine Ohio-based Handyman Ace Hardware stores, which have been family-owned and operated since 1939. The new Ohio stores are located in Dayton, Fairborn, Xenia, Centerville, New Carlisle, Kettering, Springfield, and Miamisburg.

Rocky’s Ace Hardware now has 47 locations in nine states.

“It is very exciting for us to be expanding into a new state and continuing the family-owned values and service Handyman customers have come to expect,” said Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone. “We are also family-owned and share many of the same values as Handyman, including putting the customer first in all business actions.” 

Falcone noted that customers will see the same faces from Handyman at Rocky’s, and former owner David Grimes, who is retiring, will be integral in the transition.

Falcone also said customers will benefit from some exciting changes over the next few months including expanded Ace Rewards features, product selection and online capabilities.

“We plant roots in each of our neighborhood locations and intend to maintain this community focus in our Ohio stores,” he said. “We’re excited to be a part of the greater Dayton community.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 38 locations in eight states, will host a round-up fundraising campaign in eight of its Western Mass. stores, with 100% of money raised going to benefit local Habitat for Humanity chapters. Customers can round up their totals to the next dollar the week of Feb. 18-25 at the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield, and the Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley stores.

“Habitat for Humanity continues to do amazing things in the community,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “Everyone deserves a warm, safe place to live. Habitat is working to make that happen for families in our region and beyond. We are proud this round-up will support their efforts building and renovating homes for deserving families.”

Habitat for Humanity helps qualifying families obtain a home of their own with an affordable mortgage, partnering with people in the community to help them build or improve a place they can call home. To donate through this campaign, simply make a purchase at one of the participating Rocky’s Ace Hardware locations and round up the total.

Features Special Coverage

They Know the Drill

Rocky’s Ace Hardware President and CEO Rocco Falcone II

Rocky’s Ace Hardware President and CEO Rocco Falcone II

 

 

The Falcone family have been innovators since 1926, when Rocco Falcone II’s grandfather opened his first hardware store in Springfield — and later doubled his profits with a foray into tool rentals. Now part of the Ace Hardware co-op, the family business has made plenty more pivots since then, adopting the home-center model in the ’70s and then shifting to a more targeted, customer-service-focused model in the ’90s to combat the rise of Home Depot. And today, at a time when the pandemic is crushing small, independent stores, Rocky’s is still growing, to 38 stores and counting.

 

 

Rocco Falcone II didn’t need a pandemic to tell him his business is essential.

His family business, Rocky’s Ace Hardware — helmed for the past 30 years by Falcone, its third-generation president and CEO — has been proving that for more than 95 years.

But when businesses of all kinds were shuttered almost two years ago, during the early days of COVID-19, hardware stores were, indeed, among the ‘essential’ businesses the state allowed to remain open.

And it’s a good thing, judging by the surge in demand that followed.

“What really took off with COVID, the first area we saw a spike, was home-improvement projects. When people were suddenly staying home, the biggest thing they were buying was paint. They wanted to be productive working at home, and have a nice home office.”

“We’re fighting with Home Depot and Lowe’s for these products, and you want to get your fair share, but there’s a disruption in the supply chain.”

When the weather warmed up, the next spike was backyard grills. “Everyone wanted to get outside because of COVID, and they were buying Weber and Traeger grills and the Big Green Egg — gas, charcoal, smokers, pellet grills … that business remained strong, and still is.”

He paused for a moment. “But we’ve had our challenges, too.”

The biggest have emerged during the second year of the pandemic, and affect industries of all kinds: namely staffing and supply-chain issues. At Rocky’s, the former involves making sure everyone is healthy.

“We employ more than 500 people,” Falcone said. “I would say not a day goes by when someone in the company isn’t out on quarantine with COVID. It’s a challenge staffing stores. We have a great staff, though, and people are willing to help out. If a store’s assistant manager is out, or two assistants are out, we have someone from another store hop over to that store.”

Rocky’s has grown from a single store in downtown Springfield

Rocky’s has grown from a single store in downtown Springfield to a 38-location chain in eight states.

The supply issue, however, is more complex, and doesn’t necessarily involve the same products month to month. When Texas froze over in February 2021, paralyzing manufacturing and trucking down south, the situation crippled the supply of PVC piping and glues and adhesives — products produced in great volumes in Texas, a state most people associate more with oil and energy, Falcone said.

“The freezing created a big shortage in PVC, which you’d see when you’d go down the PVC aisles. The whole supply got disrupted.”

Oh, and back to those grills — it’s been very difficult at times to stock them, especially when big-box stores responded to the shortage by buying up six months’ worth. “That disrupted the supply chain even more. We’re fighting with Home Depot and Lowe’s for these products, and you want to get your fair share, but there’s a disruption in the supply chain.”

Or Stihl leaf blowers. “We’d be ordering at 8 in the morning, going on every day, seeing what they have. All our store managers were trying to reserve leaf blowers and other things. By 8:05, they were gone.”

All of which has spurred inflation, so store owners are seeing vendors push through price increases of 5% or 10% across the board, Falcone noted. “These are crazy times with the supply chain; now we’ve got price increases, and we’ve got to stay on top of that. It’s different for everyone. I know in the car business, new cars have gone up 5% to 10%, but used cars went up 25%. It’s kind of crazy. And we’re seeing that inflation in our prices, too.”

But here’s the thing: two years of economic disruption and shifts in customer expectations aren’t going to slow down a family business that has endured even more dramatic changes over the years — including, perhaps most notably, the rise of the big boxes starting in the early ’90s.

 

Tools for Success

The Rocky’s story begins much earlier that that, however — in 1926, to be exact — when Falcone’s grandfather, also named Rocco, opened a 500-square-foot hardware store at the corner of Main and Union streets in Springfield, soon relocated into larger quarters across the street, and later opened a rental center that would soon match the hardware store for annual revenue — just one of the family’s many smart ideas over the past century.

The original operation was a classic mom-and-pop operation, run by Rocco and his wife, Clara. Later, their son, Jim Falcone, would pitch in after school and on weekends. The venture survived the dark days of the Great Depression, and Rocco eventually expanded the operation in the early ’40s. When he passed away in 1965, his son, Jim Falcone, took the helm of the family business and, with his sister, Claire, as vice president, steered it toward steady growth.

“We started with rentals, hardware, paint, and wallpaper. By the ’60s and ’70s, when my father ran it, they were converting the stores to home centers, with kitchen cabinets, windows, lumber, and sheetrock.”

Rocky’s became a chain with the acquisition of a small hardware store on the corner of White Street and Belmont Avenue in Springfield, with another location soon to follow on the corner of Breckwood Boulevard and Wilbraham Road in the 16 Acres section of the city. The chain became regional with the acquisition of a small hardware store on Walnut Street in Agawam, owned by a longtime family friend.

In the mid-’70s, Jim recognized a shift in the hardware retail realm, one that would ultimately change the size and scope of the stores, increasing their size and shifting to a ‘home center’ model.

“We started with rentals, hardware, paint, and wallpaper,” the younger Rocco told BusinessWest. “By the ’60s and ’70s, when my father ran it, they were converting the stores to home centers, with kitchen cabinets, windows, lumber, and sheetrock.”

By the late ’80s, the Rocky’s chain had grown to seven locations and launched an affiliation with the Ace Hardware co-op, which offered Rocky’s the buying power of a national chain, national advertising, and the computerization of accounting and inventory procedures while still maintaining its identity.

“We really focused on automation, computerizing the business, streamlining inventory,” he recalled. “These individual-owner stores weren’t able to do that; they were still ordering with pencil and pad in the ’70s and ’80s. We got everything automated, and it took a lot of labor out of the process. That way, we could focus more on sales and customers, and spend less time ordering stuff.”

The Ace Hardware co-op offers Rocky’s the buying power of a national chain

The Ace Hardware co-op offers Rocky’s the buying power of a national chain, national advertising, and other advantages while still maintaining its identity.

Rocco II, who moved up the ladder from store manager to director to vice president of store operations, eventually took over as president and CEO in 1992, during the rise of Home Depot — a painful time for Rocky’s and all other small hardware chains, which coincided with a long recession that impacted home buying and remodeling.

When the Falcone family was honored by BusinessWest as its Top Entrepreneur for 2006, Jim told the magazine that these larger, national chains, rather than chasing Rocky’s from the scene, provided a much-needed wake-up call, one that would ultimately make the company more efficient, competitive, and service-oriented.

“When I became president in ’92, I said, ‘hey, wait a second,’” Rocco said, and seriously reconsidered the company’s place in the industry — specifically, where they could compete most effectively on price, and where they couldn’t. So they got rid of the kitchen-cabinet business, as well as doors, windows, insulation, sheetrock, and other staples of large-scale projects.

“We got out of the building materials, and a lot of stores got smaller. In the ’90s, when Home Depot came in, we got out of new construction and focused more on maintenance and repair.”

“No one wanted to come buy sheetrock from us,” he said. “We got out of the building materials, and a lot of stores got smaller. In the ’90s, when Home Depot came in, we got out of new construction and focused more on maintenance and repair.”

Yet, the footprint kept growing. In the late ’90s, Rocky’s acquired eight stores from a chain in Eastern Mass. that was experiencing financial problems, doubling the size of the operation. Today, with 38 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, Rocky’s is the largest family-owned Ace retailer.

 

Working on Additions

While the pandemic may have tested Rocky’s, it convinced others, mainly single-store operators, to leave the game, and Rocky’s has picked a few of those stores up.

The two most recent additions are Karp’s Hardware in Stamford, Conn. and Clarke’s Ace Hardware in New London, N.H. “In both those cases, individuals owned them, they were family businesses, and they didn’t have other family members ready or willing to take over the business when the owners were stressed out with COVID and wanted to sell,” Falcone said.

Those acquisitions followed expansions into Bath, Maine; Washington, N.J.; and Forks County, Pa. over the past five years.

“We’re in a growth mode now; we’re looking to continue to grow our business, continue to expand business,” he said. “There is this little pocket of hardware stores, where the people who own them are in their 60s and 70s, and this whole COVID situation has done them in. They’re just stressed out; they’ve created a nest egg and want to unlock the capital they’ve created in their business by selling.”

Rocky’s, on the other hand, thrives in an attractive niche between the big boxes and those individual owners, with an economy of scale that allows it to roll with industry change, always innovating, while focusing on customer service in ways Home Depot and Lowe’s aren’t necessarily known for, and which are impossible on the internet.

“People don’t want to buy paint online,” Falcone told BusinessWest. “You could, but you want to match the right color, and you want someone to reassure you that you’re making the right decision. We have high-service, high-touch paint experts.”

Then there’s power equipment. “We teach the customer how to use it and not hurt themselves, how to use the right fuel, the right mixture, things like that. People don’t want to buy chainsaws on the internet.

“And some gas grills are big and bulky,” he went on. “We assemble them, and assemble them right, so the gas connections are done properly. Now we’re coming up with white-glove delivery; instead of dropping it at the mailbox, for a slight added fee, we set it up on your deck and take away the old grill.

“We’re finalizing that now,” he added, along with the ability to buy from Ace online and pick up the product at a store (and get that lesson in how to use it, too).

Even the way stores are laid out has changed over the years, Falcone added, noting that making it easy to find products is part of customer service, too.

 

Hammering It Home

The fourth generation has joined the Rocky’s team, Falcone said: his son Johnny currently works in merchandise and buying — as noted earlier, a job with some added challenge these days.

Staffing can be a challenge as well, and it varies by store. “We try to treat people fairly,” Falcone said, and that goes beyond pay and benefits, and involves a culture of training.

“Our people tell us amazing stories: ‘I’m a homeowner, and now I know how to fix all these things — a light fixture, toilet, under-sink repair — where I’ve never done that type of thing before.’ That great training helps people grow over time as individuals. You can’t understate the value of that.”

It’s another way Rocky’s Ace Hardware is making people’s lives a little easier. Its success in doing so, and continued growth as it approaches a century in business, is a testament to a model — and a willingness to change it when necessary — that has seen this family business survive recessions, the big-box home-improvement boom, and a whole lot more.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]