• March 2010

Celebrate International Women's Day, March 8, 2010

Happy International Women’s Day! Since the early 1900s, March 8 has been the official day that the economic, political and social achievements of women are honored. In China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, it is a national holiday.

How it all began: In 1908, oppression and inequality spurred women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. In March of that year, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. By 1910, women around the world had joined the movement. An International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen, and an activist named Clara Zetkin proposed that every year in every country, there should be a celebration on the same day — a Women’s Day — to press for their demands. International Women’s Day was born. A century later we congratulate Kathryn Bigelow, who last night became the first woman to be named Best Director at the Oscars for her work on the Iraq War drama, “The Hurt Locker.” It also won the Best Picture prize, along with four other awards. Way to go!

Let the celebration begin! Today, we are officially launching the Web site for our new book 100 Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing the World and How You Can, Too! It will be published later this year to honor 100 women from around the world who are making strides and changing lives.

How are you amazing? Although the published book is limited to 100 women, the Web site has broader shoulders. On it, hundreds of savvy, innovative, courageous women from around the world will be profiled. Meet some of them here. If you, or someone you know, should be included, please submit a proposal. There’s a movie project in the works as well, so stay tuned for that.

To get the party started, this issue of Be Inkandescent magazine is dedicated to women. Each of the 20 articles you see framing the Web site has been written by women entrepreneurs on topics they feel passionate about.

Articles include: A Q&A with Lisa McLeod, author of “Forget Perfect”; tips on event planning at the National Museum for Women in the Arts; thoughts on what makes women’s management skills keen; and discussions on the importance of joy in the workplace, the meaning of health, and whether there really is such a thing as work-life balance. And much more!

Think girls can’t use power tools? Then you haven’t met our Entrepreneur of the Month Gina Schaefer. The 39-year-old dynamo behind an $11 million hardware empire is opening her seventh ACE Hardware store this spring. How did a girl from northeast Ohio with a poli sci degree and no hardware experience get into this male-dominated industry? Scroll down to find out.

As always, we thank you for your continued support. And we remind you of the wisdom of author Anna Quindlen, who said: Recently a young mother asked me what she was to do with her 7-year-old daughter who was obstreperous, outspoken, and inconveniently willful. “Keep her,” I replied. The suffragettes refused to be polite in demanding what they wanted, or grateful for getting what they deserved. Works for me.

It works for us, too! Here’s to your success!

Hope Katz Gibbs, editor and publisher, Be Inkandescent magazine / hope@inkandescentpr.com
Book design and illustration by Michael Gibbs
Web site programming by Max Kukoy
Copyediting by Patricia Gray

ACE Hardware Entrepreneur On The Return Of The Mom + Pop Shop


Gina Schaefer, owner
ACE Hardware, D.C.

Article by Hope Katz Gibbs

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.

Why did the 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,” Schaefer says with a grin. But the real answer seems to be equal parts necessity, opportunity, humility — and true grit.

Bring customer-friendly, home-maintenance shops back to Main Street

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.

A hardware cooperative based in Oak Brook, Illinois, ACE was founded in 1924 to provide a centralized purchasing organization to supply members’ stores. Total revenues for the fiscal year ended January 2010 were $3.5 billion.

“Even back in 2002 ACE had its act together, and I liked that,” Gina says. In June 2002, she and Marc incorporated their company. By March 2003, they had leased space in Logan Circle, taken a training course, and stocked the tiny store with close to 20,000 products.

“We used to joke that because there isn’t a hardware store nearby to purchase light bulbs, picture hooks or toilet repair kits, city dwellers are sitting in the dark with pictures on the floor, listening to a running toilet. I wanted to change that.”

Admittedly, when Gina told people she was opening an urban hardware store, they thought she was crazy.

“But I knew it was the right thing to do. I am a firm believer in the concept of the mom and pop shop. In the 1950s, people only shopped on Main Street in D.C. The riots of the ’60s changed that but by 2002, people were tired of the suburbs and wanted to support independent retailers again. I wanted to be part of that resurgence.”

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.”

Gina says she simply didn’t know what she didn’t know, so she constantly asked for help and advice. “The men at ACE were so helpful. I just had to do exactly what they said, and it worked.”

Indeed. In 2005, Gina and Marc opened a second store, and a third in 2006, adding about one store per year thereafter. She’d like to eventually open 10.

“We really love owning these stores and are so pleased that from the first month we were in business, the local people embraced us. We’d go to a town hall meeting to introduce ourselves, and we’d get a standing ovation. It is clear that people want to shop locally, and we are more than happy to fill that need.”

According to Barry C. Lynn, author of the new book, Cornered — The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, Gina and Marc are part of an important trend. “The dream of owning a successful small business is still alive in America and remains an essential part of our national self-image.”

Click here to read about Cornered.

Spoil the customers, spoil the employees, sell great products

Although Takoma Park Ace Hardware isn’t technically an urban store like Glover Park or her 5th Street store, Gina thinks the density is high enough there that people shouldn’t need to leave Takoma Park to shop for basic necessities.

Like the other stores, it will feature an enhanced lawn-and-garden section, and traditional home-maintenance departments such as paint, cleaning, tools, plumbing, hardware, outdoor, house wares and novelty gifts. It will also offer a variety of services including key-cutting, glass and woodcutting, tool rentals, delivery, paint matching, lock re-keying, and knife and scissor sharpening.

The secret to her success, she believes, is treating her customers right. One customer recently said: “I love the personal service offered. I see familiar faces that want to help me. Our dogs drag me into the store whenever we pass it so they can get a treat. I like that they think of them. We have been going to the Logan Circle store since it opened.”

Gina uses the same nurturing approach with her employees — and thinks it might be those old instincts coming through from her days as manager of intangible assets. “But really, my philosophy is to treat the staff well because then they’ll be more likely to treat the customers well. It’s not hard. It’s nice. And it’s good business.”

Case in point: Eddie. Although she didn’t set out to help her underprivileged neighbors when she opened her stores, she has established a training program for her employees. Eddie Foster, in fact, was 14 when she hired him to work as an intern in the summer of 2008.

She and her managers taught him the ropes of the hardware business, explained that a smile gets you farther than a grimace, and Eddie became a star employee. This fall, he went off to college. “I felt like a proud mother. It was so great.”

Gina also works closely with Jubilee Jobs, a D.C. organization that helps her find employees. Often, these candidates are working to overcome an addiction.

“Our motto is that we give second chances. I figure that if I don’t do it, who will? Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s often because people don’t have good role models. We are trying to provide that safe haven. The result is that we help people — whether that means selling them a wrench to fix the toilet or find a job so they can get off welfare or drugs. It seems like a good way to run a company.”

Click here to read Gina’s Tips for Entrepreneurs.

Tactical Tips from ACE Hardware's Gina Schaeffer

What does it take to build an $11 million business? And how do you install a water filter?

Gina Schaefer shares her trade secrets.

1. Don’t be afraid to do something new. I always wanted to own my own business. When I was in the sixth grade, I remember my friend Melanie McAndrew and I cooked up a business plan to open a day-care center. We were going to charge 6 cents for a carton of milk. That entrepreneurial spirit never died. When I was 31, I decided the time to go for it was at hand. So I plunged in headfirst and never looked back.

2. Humility is good, but it’s OK to be a little cocky. I get told quite often that I am humble because when people ask how we got into the hardware business, I say that we were young and stupid. It’s true, by the way. They also tell me I’m smart. That just makes me blush.

Don’t get me wrong. Those compliments are nice and I hope they are true, but I also think that I’m a little cocky. I mean, I opened a hardware store — seven of them — and I’m a girl. Most of the ACE Hardware owners are not only men, but men who have grown up in the hardware business. One of my friends was actually born in the back of his parents’ ACE store. How do you compete with that kind of experience?

To make up for my lack of experience and knowledge, I ask a million questions and follow the advice of those who have come before me. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I need to perfect their invention. What is so cool is that I now sit on the ACE Hardware board of directors. In 2002, I never would have dreamed I’d be asked to do that.

So maybe it’s OK to be a little cocky — so long as you are also humble as hell.

3. Trust your staff. Trust your customers. Someone steals something from one of my stores every day. It’s a fact of life in the retail business. We have up to 29,000 products in each store and it would be tough to monitor them all every day.

Knowing that there’s nothing I can do about it makes me know that I have two choices. I can do my best to keep the theft to a minimum and let the reality of this situation roll off my back — or I can dwell on it and feel stressed. Sure it makes me mad, but I try to put it into perspective. The big picture is that my customers are great, my employees are great. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

4. Give people a chance — sometimes more than once. We hire some people who don’t have stellar employment records. Some are former addicts. Some have spent time in jail. One employee has 11 kids. And they all deserve a chance to improve themselves.

We honor their victories, and frequently have anniversary parties to celebrate their sobriety. It’s important. They are part of our ACE family.

What’s more, about half of our employees don’t have a college degree. Yet. My goal is for all of my employees to work for us for a while, and then move on and move up. In that sense, I guess we’re somewhat of an incubator. Employees come to us, learn a bunch about themselves and how the working world operates, and then they move on. It’s how it should be. And it lets us care for more people.

5. Let it roll. Growing up, my dad was always so patient and tolerant, and I think that’s why I don’t sweat the small stuff. Marc doesn’t, either. How can you? We have our eye on the big picture. Plus, it’s too exhausting to get stressed about things you can’t control — like shoplifting or other facts of the retail business.

The bottom line is that we truly love what we do, and hope to do it for at least another decade. If we do, odds are good that we’ll help hundreds of people who need a good job and want to work in a nurturing environment. If I can do that, I think I’ll have accomplished something important.

For more information about ACE Hardware, D.C., visit www.acehardwaredc.com.

And to learn how to install that water filter, check out Gina on YouTube.

If you want to be busy, keep trying to be perfect. If you want to be happy, focus on making a difference.”

– Lisa Earle McLeod

A people who mean to be their Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

– James Madison

A truly forgiving person is someone who experiences all the anger merited by injustice and still acts with fairness and compassion.”

– Martha Beck

Many people prefer to play it safe when it comes to business matters. Are you willing to take risks in the pursuit of entrepreneurial success?”

– Steven Schussler

I’m not afraid of storms,
for I’m learning to sail my ship.”

– Louisa May Alcott

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

– Thomas Edison

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

– T.S. Eliot

Your own words are the bricks and mortar
of the dreams you want to realize.
 The words you choose and their use establish the life you experience.”

– Sonia Croquette

Remove those ‘I want you to like me’ stickers from your forehead
and, instead, place them where they truly will do the most good—on your mirror.”

– Susan Jeffers

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

– Anais Nin

By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

– Sri Aurobindo

Do not say, ‘why were the former days better than these,’ for it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”

– Ecclesiastes, 7:10

If it really was a no-brainer to make it on your own in business there’d be millions of no-brained, harebrained individuals quitting their day jobs.”

– Bill Rancic, "The Apprentice"

Nobody talks about entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what nurtures creative thinking.”

– Anita Roddick, founder, The Body Shop

A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.”

– Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

If you do not tell the truth about yourself
, you cannot tell it about other people.”

– Virginia Woolf

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

You take your life in your own hands, and what happens?
 A terrible thing: no one to blame.”

– Erica Jong

There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.”

– J. Robert Oppenheimer

You don’t go into a field that requires cracking people’s heads open or operating on something as delicate as the spinal cord unless you are comfortable with taking risks.”

– Dr. Ben Carson

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

– Winston Churchill

Find somebody to be successful for. Raise their hopes. Think of their needs.”

– Barack Obama

Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!”

– Madam C.J. Walker

Entrepreneurs willingly assume responsibility for the success or failure of a venture and are answerable for all its facets.”

– Victor Kiam

Don’t follow, lead. Don’t copy, create. Don’t start, finish. Don’t sit still, move. Don’t fit in, stand out. Don’t sit quietly, speak up. (Not all the time, sure, but more often.)”

– Seth Godin

The best reason to start an organization is to create a product or service to make the world a better place.”

– Guy Kawasaki

Success is the necessary misfortune of life, but it is only to the very unfortunate that it comes early.”

– Anthony Trollope

Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.”

– Robert H. Schuller

The quality of your life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with.”

– Tony Robbins

A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.”

– Albert Schweitzer

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity.”

– Ray Bradbury

If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.”

– Anna Quindlen

Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!”

– Andrew Carnegie

Confidence is the most important thing you can teach someone… if you can teach them confidence, you don’t have to teach them anything else.”

– Vin Diesel

A man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out.”

– Chinese Proverb

Don’t wait for someone else to lead you to your right life; that privilege—and responsibility—is yours alone.”

– Martha Beck

The important thing is not being afraid to take a chance. The greatest failure is to not try.”

– Debbi Fields, Mrs. Fields Cookies

We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

– General Omar Bradley

It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.”

– Aristotle

We are all of us born with a letter inside us, and that only if we are true to ourselves, may we be allowed to read it before we die.”

– Douglas Coupland

History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.”

– John F. Kennedy

The journey is the reward.”

– Greg Norman

When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

– Audre Lorde

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

– John Quincy Adams

He who wants to tear down a house must be prepared to rebuild it.”

– African Proverb

Women once had the goal of being Superwoman; I think most of us now simply strive to have a super day.”

– Author, Activist Lee Woodruff

Are you willing to help other people succeed even when it’s not a requirement of your job to be of assistance?”

– Steven Schussler

If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more.
 If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”

– Oprah Winfrey

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”

– Leo Jozef Suenens

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

– T.S. Eliot

Be Inkandescent Magazine's Back Issues

Don’t miss the great advice our entrepreneurs have offered in the past. Click below to view our back issues.