Scott and Todd Andrews didn’t intend to be retailers.
It’s been an interesting road from the pool service business they started with to their 13,000-square-foot Ace Hardware store in Lutz, Fla., which includes Sunshine Pool Service & Repair and E.L.L.A. Boutique, a gift shop.
The brothers bought Sunshine Pool Service in 2003. Neither had worked in the pool service field, but they were looking for a business to purchase.
“We thought a pool service company would be good,” Scott said. The former owner stayed on as an employee and helped them learn the business. They also had two experienced service technicians who were very qualified, Scott added.
In 2005, they became the owners of a small retail store when they purchased Land ’O Lakes Pool Supply. “We bought the company mainly for the pool service routes,” Scott said. “The pool store kind of came along with it.”
The 1,500-square-foot space had been at that location for more than 20 years and as Sunshine Pool Service, they offered water testing, chemicals and pool parts.
But when the Andrews brothers started looking for a different location with more traffic, they found an old Walgreens in a busy plaza — with a lot more space than they needed.
That’s when they explored opening an Ace Hardware in addition to the pool side. “Ace really does promote coming up with a niche,” Scott said. Todd explained that many Ace stores have a hobbyist slant, such as fishing. And so the new store is an Ace Hardware with Sunshine Pool Service & Repair inside.
A pool-focus at Ace stores isn’t uncommon, said Rob Kurzweil, merchandising buyer (pool, trim, pet) for Ace Hardware, but having the pool component as a store within a store with a separate name is unique.
“We do a big pool business and support a big pool niche,” he added. Of the roughly 4,700 Ace stores, there are about 350 that do pool water testing and that Ace would consider pool retailers.
So, with the backing of the Ace brand, Sunshine moved to its new location in 2011. “We remodeled the whole inside of the store per the Ace Hardware specs,” Scott said. However, they also kept features of the old Walgreens store. The Walgreens photo counter now houses the pool water testing area.
The bigger location also allows for even more offerings than just hardware and pool supplies. Approximately six months after the Andrews opened the Ace store, they opened a gift store called E.L.L.A. Boutique, Todd said. The boutique carries jewelry, handbags, soaps, children’s items, seasonal decorations and hair bows made by Todd’s wife, Andrea.
Tina Andrews, Scott’s wife, runs the boutique, and Andrea manages a lot of the events and Facebook marketing for the venture, Scott said.
“It’s really worked out well,” he added. “It’s almost like its own little store.”
The unique mix of pool supplies, hardware and gifts is one of the reasons Ace named the store a 2013 Ace Coolest Store winner during the Ace Platinum Conference in October. Six stores across the country were given the honor.
“It was definitely humbling,” Scott said. “There are a lot of cool Ace Hardware stores.”
The cool title has only been bestowed on Ace stores for the past few years, but the stores selected are ones that stand out from the average hardware retailer, said Kate Kirkpatrick, corporate media relations manager for Ace.
“These are stores that are doing a tremendous job catering to the community,” she added.
The store also won a Beacon Award in September from The Hardware Connection for the best new store under 25,000 square feet. “My district manager for Ace submitted our entry for that award,” Scott said.
As for what’s next for the brothers and their cool store, Scott said they’re open to owning more Ace stores with the pool retail and service space. At the smaller location, they had a solid clientele, and now those customers shop at their Ace store. Plus, they’ve increased the pool sales by about 15 percent in 2012 (the first full year at the new location) and held that number steady in 2013 from hardware customers who are now buying pool retail items.