Jeff Schulein of Crown Ace Hardware has accomplished what few dealers can lay claim to: 17 stores, a solid succession plan and, since the economic downturn, no store closures or major employee layoffs. In fact, Schulein and his son, Mark, are in negotiations to open an 18th store, this one in San Diego.
“I’m an entrepreneur who does things by the seat of his pants,” Jeff said. “Mark is a good manager. He’s highly organized. So together we make a good team.”
Although Jeff is officially in charge of business development, while Mark runs the day-to-day operations of the stores, one gets the feeling that the father and son make a lot of joint decisions, and despite their different styles, influence one another. For example, Crown Ace is much more choosy about where it opens stores now, Jeff said, and will walk away from deals if the lease is too high or other conditions don’t seem right. “It has to be pretty low on the risk scale,” Jeff explained.
Schulein purchased his first hardware store in Corona del Mar — “Crown of the Sea” in Spanish — in 1974. Over the next three decades, he added 11 more units, all of them in various Orange County cities. In January 2007 the chain purchased a four-unit Ace chain with locations in Riverside and Yucaipa, Calif., two inland communities, and Lake Havasu City, Ariz. In 2008 they crossed the San Diego County line with a store in a decommissioned and redeveloped military base called Liberty Station. Their newest location is a unit in the northern coastal town of Encinitas.
Crown Ace is on the lookout for potential sites, mostly in San Diego County. “We see a lot of expansion opportunities there, and we now have the infrastructure to support growth in this region,” said Mark, who entered the business post-college (University of San Diego) when the chain had eight locations. Staying relevant in the mind of the consumers is something many dealers don’t even worry about, but the 41-year-old father of three names “strong [people] teams” as the glue that holds the chain together.
Crown Ace is retooling its marketing campaign to make it more viable. And it’s not just the bosses who are thinking about this issue.
At the Crown Ace Hardware in Liberty Station, store manager Angela Sharrett noticed the large number of dog walkers who came by