Houston -- Ace executives took the stage to deliver rousing speeches at the General Session of the Ace 2014 Spring Convention & Exhibits, congratulating retailers on a strong 2013 and outlining the co-op's vision for 2014 and beyond.
Ace even had a proprietary rock 'n' roll theme song dedicated to its strategic initiative, "20/20 Vision," which added a spirited component to a slide show presented at the session. "The view is worth the climb," crooned the singer.
The company looked back at the recent Emery-Waterhouse acquisition, the roll-out of new B2B wholesaling program The Supply Place, the launch of the Ace-Valspar Paint Studio, the Helpful 101 customer service certification program, exceeded sales and profitability goals, and Ace's 90-year-anniversary.
CEO John Venhuizen pointed out that the Emery Waterhouse acquisition benefits retailers in at least three ways: via financial benefits, the addition of new SKUs, categories and suppliers, and a generally lower cost of goods thanks to combined buying power and price synchronization. A handful of products will even realize double-digit cost reduction by March 1st, he said.
EVP, CFO and "chief hero officer" Bill Guzik -- who Venhuizen introduced by way of an anecdote in which an 18-year-old Guzik made headlines after he brazenly went after a robber in a parking lot -- pointed out that same store sales exceeded Ace's goal by 1.3%, marking a 4.3% increase for the co-op in 2013.
"This was the best performance we've had this century," said Guzik. "And it didn't just come from price inflation -- it came from having more customers in our stores."
The Supply Place itself generated small business revenue growth of 7.3%.
Additionally, Ace's bottom-line profitability came in at $104.5 million, exceeding its target of $100 million. Worldwide total store count performed similarly, weighing in at 4,829 (compared to a goal of 4,742). At a 102-store net growth rate, it was "a number we haven't seen in decades," said Venhuizen.
Finally, Guzik highlighted Ace's strengthening debt-to-equity ratio, which fell from 96 cents of debt for every dollar of equity to a mere 58 cents in two years.
One thing that didn't go quite as planned was the launch of ACENET,