Entrepreneur Gina Schaefer, owner 9 ACE Hardware Stores
Who she is: Owning a string of hardware stores in downtown Washington, D.C., isn’t what you’d expect Gina Schaefer to say she does for a living when you meet the perky, petite 39-year-old. But she and husband Marc proudly stand at the helm of an $19 million company that owns 9 ACE stores in Washington, DC and Baltimore.
What she does: Manages more than 175 employees who help her maintain the busy urban retail stores, which sell lawn-and-garden supplies, paint, cleaning, tools, plumbing, hardware, outdoor, house wares and novelty gifts.
Why she does it: “I think it’s important to bring customer-friendly, home-maintenance shops back to Main Street,” says Schaefer. “Back in 2003, we had just moved into a fixer-upper, and so had all of our friends. The only place to get tools and nails and toilets and wood was at Home Depot in D.C. Or, you had to get into a car and trek out to the suburbs. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t even want to own a car, and actually sold it years ago. But I did want to fix up our new condo.”
How her big idea played out: ACE agreed with her reasoning, and in March 2003, Gina and Marc had leased space in Logan Circle, taken a training course, and stocked the store with close to 20,000 products. Immediately, the store was a hit. In fact Marc, who kept his day job for a while — just in case — quit three months later and became the company’s CFO. Marc jokes today: “When we used to sit on a panel at new investor orientations for ACE, I’d describe her as ‘Hurricane Gina’ because she just goes in and makes things happen.”
How Gina pays it forward: A Board Member for House of Ruth and Think Local First DC, Gina is a also on a Corporate Advisory Board member for Jubilee Jobs, which provides skilled job preparation and placement services to the unemployed. Her corporate duties to ACE include serving on the Board of Directors and she was previously a Steering committee member of Progressive Ace Leaders.
- From Software to Hardware: By following her gut, Gina Schaefer went from translating tech-speak into Portuguese for IBM to owning 9 ACE Hardware stores in DC and Baltimore. And, she met her husband and business partner in the process. In this speech, Gina shares insights into how you can let intuition be your guide, too.
- Grab Your Drill, Ladies. It’s time to do business: The cliche of making it in a man’s world, unfortunately, is still true in male-dominated industries like hardware. Although there are plenty of women who own stores in the ACE Hardware cooperative, they are still the minority of the company based in Oak Brook, Illinois that generated more than $3.5 billion last year. If Gina has her way, that trend will change in 2014 and beyond. In this speech, she explains how.
- Buying Local Isn’t a Slogan—It’s the Future: The resurgence of mom and pop shops is happening across America for good reason. It’s easier, cheaper, and important for the environment and economy to shop locally. “Retail stores rely on the folks in the neighborhood to support them, which is good for the entire community,” Gina insists. In this speech, she takes a deep dive into the trends and economics.
Owning a string of hardware stores in downtown Washington, D.C., isn’t what you’d expect Gina Schaefer to say she does for a living when you meet the perky, petite 40something.
But she and husband Marc Friedman proudly stand at the helm of a $19 million company they founded in 2002, which owns and manages 9 ACE Hardware locations in DC and Baltimore.
Why did a woman who graduated with a degree in political science, and worked for a few years at the Children’s Defense Fund, get into the hardware business? “We were young and dumb,” told me when we first met. But the real answer is more likely equal parts necessity, opportunity, humility — and true grit.
We’ll asked 10 questions to this Truly Amazing Woman about her career, her lessons learned, and advice she has for other women who are making strides and changing lives, including:
- How does she work so well with her husband Marc
- How she handles being a powerful woman in a traditionally-male dominated, masculine industry like hardware
- What part of her business is she most passionate about
- What aspect of her career tested her the most
- And what was a major crossroads—and how did she handle it?
Click here to download the podcast.
March 2010, Be Inkandescent magazine — Gina Schaefer was the manager of intangible assets (which meant she arranged great beer parties and spoiled the staff) at a high-tech firm in Bethesda back in 2002. That was before the tech bubble burst, and Gina had an inkling it was coming.
One day she came home from work and told Marc Friedman, her husband of just a few months, that she wanted to quit and open a hardware store in Logan Circle. She’d worked in a hardware store as a teen, but never got to handle the hardware because girls could only run the register. That didn’t stop her.
And neither did Marc. “She was so adamant that even if I wanted to I knew that I couldn’t stop her.” He sent emails to ACE Hardware and True Value.
After all, he understood why Gina saw that a D.C. hardware store was needed in the neighborhood.
She explains: “We had just moved into a fixer-upper, and so had all of our friends. The only place to get tools and nails and toilets and wood was at Home Depot in D.C. Or, you had to get into a car and trek out to the suburbs. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t even want to own a car, and actually sold it years ago. But I did want to fix up our new condo. I figured if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.”
ACE apparently agreed with her reasoning, and within a week a representative responded to Marc’s query.