Entrepreneur Gina Schaefer, owner of 11 Ace Hardware Stores
Who she is: Owning a string of hardware stores in downtown Washington, DC, isn’t what you’d expect Gina Schaefer to say she does for a living when you meet the perky, petite 40-something. But she and husband Marc Friedman proudly stand at the helm of a $19 million company that this month opened its 11th Ace Hardware store 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, plumbing, cleaning, and outdoor supplies, as well as paint, tools, hardware, housewares, 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 DC. 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, Schaefer and Friedman had leased space in the Logan Circle neighborhood of DC, taken a training course, and stocked the store with close to 20,000 products. The store was an immediate hit. In fact, Friedman, who had held on to his day job — just in case — quit three months later and became the company’s CFO. He 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 Schaefer pays it forward: A board member for House of Ruth and Think Local First DC, Schaefer is a also 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 its board of directors, and she was previously a steering committee member of Progressive Ace Leaders.
Gina Schaefer’s Speeches
- From Software to Hardware: By following her gut, Gina Schaefer went from translating tech-speak into Portuguese for IBM to owning 11 Ace Hardware stores in DC and Baltimore. And, she met her husband and business partner in the process. In this speech, Schaefer 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 plenty of women own stores in the Ace Hardware cooperative, they are still the minority of the company (based in Oak Brook, IL) that generated more than $3.5 billion last year. If Schaefer has her way, that trend will change. 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,” Schaefer insists. In this speech, she takes a deep dive into the trends and economics.
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