• 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.

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

– Anita Roddick, founder, The Body Shop

As each woman realizes her power, she transforms the world.”

– Patrice Wynne, WomanSpirit Sourcebook

Passion makes perfect.”

– Eugene Biro

They who give have all things. They who withhold have nothing.”

– Hindu Proverb

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

A person who learns to juggle six balls will be more skilled than the person who never tries to juggle more than three.”

– Marilyn vos Savant

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

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

– Robert H. Schuller

Ripeness is all.”

– William Shakespeare

This is the age when magical technologies make more and more radically fun ideas plausible, even easy. You’re only limited by your creativity.”

– Martha Beck

I have spent a good part of my life convincing people that a blank sheet of paper is the greatest opportunity in the world, and not frightening at all.”

– Marty Skler, executive vp, Walt Disney Imagineering

Speaking more than one language is no longer just an asset in today’s job market; it is a requirement.”

– Tom Adams, CEO, Rosetta Stone

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

– Debbi Fields, Mrs. Fields Cookies

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

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

– Albert Einstein

What is the point of having free will if one cannot occasionally spit in the eye of destiny?”

– Jim Butcher, White Night

Anything not worth doing well is not worth doing.”

– Warren Buffett

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

– Albert Schweitzer

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

– Mark Twain

Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”

– Thomas Wolfe

The mind is everything. What you think, you become.”

– Buddha

Ambition is the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds.”

– Thomas Dunn

Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make Me Feel Important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

– Mary Kay Ash

He who knows he has enough is rich.”

– Tao Te Ching

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go, life is a barren field frozen with snow.”

– Langston Hughes

The world I believed in, back in my most innocent, uninformed, childish mind—is real.”

– Martha Beck

To find what you seek in the road of life, leave no stone unturned.”

– Edward Bulwer Lytton

Who cares if my glass is half empty or half full; I still have something to drink.”

– Optimism rules

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela

Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.”

– Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.”

– Goldie Hawn

We are not meant to resolve all contradictions, but to live with them and rise above them.”

– William Blake

The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something.”

– Nolan Bushnell, founder, Chuck E. Cheese's

You may ask me for anything you like except time.”

– Napoleon

The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen.”

– August Rush

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

There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…”

– John Lennon

My task is really not to change myself but to become familiar with who I am.”

– Maureen Cook

The follow-your-gut mentality of the entrepreneur has the potential to take you anywhere you want to go or run you right out of business.”

– Bill Rancic, "The Apprentice"

To follow, without halt, one aim: There’s the secret of success.”

– Anna Pavlova

Change is a math formula. Change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change.”

– Alan Webber, author, "Rules of Thumb"

Inspiration and genius — one and the same.”

– Victor Hugo

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

– African Proverb

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in your room.”

– A wisdomism

Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”

– Helen Keller

Traveling is one way of lengthening life, at least in appearance.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver

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

A diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it.”

– Norwegian proverb

I don’t do very well without fear. There needs to be a part of me saying, ‘That’s going to fail,’ so I can prove myself wrong.”

– Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe

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