The Abel family

The Abel family, from left: Barb, Dick, Katie, Holly, Nancy and John. 

The key to the Abel’s Ace Hardware business success has always been customer service. It’s the 45 years of consistency in that customer service that has buoyed the business through time.

Dick and Barb Abel ventured into the hardware business in 1975 when they purchased a fledgling Coast to Coast Hardware store in Cozad, Nebraska. Prior, Dick had worked at a Chevrolet dealership in Broken Bow, Nebraska.

The store was one of three hardware stores in the small town of Cozad, population approximately 4,000. The Abels were able to bring life back into the business, and it was the only one of the three stores to survive. It remains in business today.

“We relayed the store and filled it with new merchandise.” John Abel recalled.

John was 16 when his parents began their entrepreneurship. He attributes the success of the business in Cozad to his parents, who worked with the Coast to Coast team for the right merchandise mix, but also individualized customer service from the beginning.

Aside from Dick and Barb, the business employed John and, at first, another part-time employee. Eventually, the family would add another part-time employee. Today, Abel’s Ace Hardware employs 18 full- and part-time employees.

The Abels evenutally sold the business in Cozad and purchased the Montrose Coast to Coast store in 1988. This store was located where Chow Down Pet Supply is currently.

The 5,000 square-foot building was not large enough to house what Dick envisioned for his store.

“In the original location, the merchandise was packed to the ceiling. Before we bought the business, Dad made the deal with Mr. Clubb to move the store into the current location. It was a craft store owned by Hartland Clubb Sr.,” John Abel recalled. Prior to Clubb’s Craft Store, the building housed City Market and Montgomery Wards.

The hardware store now calls a 10,000 square-foot building home.

In 1997 Servistar, which owned the Coast to Coast name, merged with True Value. For a time, the Abels were able to still operate as Coast to Coast. Eventually, though, True Value phased out the Coast to Coast brand and the Abels operated as Montrose True Value starting in 2000.

For the next five years Montrose would have two True Value stores, Park Avenue True Value and Montrose True Value. In March of 2003, The Home Depot opened a 95,000 square foot store. The impact for the Abels’ store was immediate. In the first 12 months of the hardware giant opening shop, what is now Abel’s Ace Hardware lost close to 35 percent in sales year over year.

But, within 18 months, the store began to regain revenue.

“I purchased the store from Mom and Dad in 2003 and that year, The Home Depot opened. We didn’t lay anybody off but we didn’t replace people when they left. We just tightened our belts. Being a new owner servicing that much debt… it was a struggle but we did it.” John recalled.

In 2005, Abel made the decision to change the franchise relationship from True Value to Ace Hardware and has operated as Abel’s Ace Hardware since.

The store’s biggest threat now is internet commerce, Abel said.

“The internet has changed everything. People do so much shopping online. It has to hurt us but I can’t say how much,” he said.

Abel’s Ace competes for internet sales through the acehardware.com website. It’s a small number of sales but customers who prefer to shop online can order their needs on the website and receive free delivery to the store.

Abel has not seen a dip in revenue, but also hasn’t seen the growth that he had been realizing over the years. Although the first quarter of 2019 was an improvement over 2018, Abel attributes that to having a normal winter this year after the very mild winter of 2018.

As a small business owner, Abel is concerned about laws affecting enterprises like his: he cannot always afford to adjust to the pressures new legislation might bring.

The Abels are at home in Montrose, however. John and his wife Nancy raised their daughters Katie and Holly here. Both are Montrose High School graduates; both graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and are registered nurses in Colorado.

Dick and Barb are retired in Montrose.

Dennis Anderson is group publisher for Wick Communications, Alaska and Colorado. He can be reached via email at dennis.anderson@frontiersman.com.

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