Urban retail #3: Ace Hardware Express and Unleashed by Petco
A truer illustration of urban retailers entering cities on the city's terms (as claimed in the New York Times article "Retailers' Idea: Think Smaller in Urban Push") concern the new Ace Hardware Express store initiative and the smaller footprint pet supplies store division, Unleashed by Petco, by the big box Petco pet store chain.
Ace Hardware technically is a business cooperative owned by its members. Members are store owners, running their local store under the Ace Hardware banner (True Value is also a business cooperative), but setting up and operating their store independently, with various levels of support that can be provided by the cooperative, but chosen by the store owner.
Ace Hardware has had an initiative for a number of years that supports the creation of new stores, not just in urban areas, like the stores in various DC and Baltimore neighborhoods owned by Gina Schaffer and Marc Friedman ("Hardware Made a Little Easier" from the Washington Post), but also in the suburbs. They have counterparts in cities like Chicago (Jeremy Melnick) and Indianapolis (Steve Fusek) opening urban stores also.
New stores get an inventory credit worth more than $200,000, but they still have to spend plenty of money to open a store.
There have been problems with this initiative, and the company is being sued by some of the people whose initiatives have failed, which includes a Springfield, Virginia couple ("Springfield’s Fischer Hardware hanging tough; Rep. Connolly calls for Ace Hardware probe" from the Washington Post).
Still, the cooperative keeps up the innovation. The Ace Hardware Express is a new initiative, modeled in part after food convenience stores, with a smaller selection of products in a significantly smaller footprint, targeting urban neighborhoods.
Gina and Marc are opening one of these stores in DC's Woodley Park neighborhood ("Ace Hardware to open Woodley Park store from the Washington Business Journal.
According to the WBJ article:
The 3,800-square-foot store uses Ace’s new "express" model for locations less than 4,000 square feet. ... Despite the smaller size, the new Ace will offer more than 20,000 products, including basic hardware, plumbing, pet supplies and other items.
The cooperative plans 400 or more stores in this format. See "Ace Hardware adding smaller 'Express' stores" from the Chicago Tribune.
Unleashed by Pepco
The Big Bad Woof independently owned and operated pet supplies store in the Takoma DC commercial district. Photo from Washington DC Economic Partnership.
I remember a presentation at a Main Street conference in 2007 maybe, about trends in retail, and how the presenter specifically mentioned locally owned pet shops and other pet related concepts (like Doggy wash and pet day care). DC has a few examples of long time small pet shops, such as Chateau Animaux (which started by vending at Eastern Market) in Capitol Hill and Big Bad Woof in Takoma DC.
Clearly, Unleashed by Petco is the company's response to this trend, the rise of dog parks in urban areas, etc., and a realization that their large format store won't work in most center city locations--although the Unleashed chain has stores in suburban locations as well.
The company has 50 stores, including one in DC now, with a new one about to open in the NoMA district on the 1200 block of 1st Street NE.
They aren't quite entering the city on the city's terms as their stores are being located in strip shopping centers and new buildings, such as the new Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, rather than extant buildings. But they are locating in small store locations in "neighborhood" commercial districts, so they are halfway there maybe.
(Photo of the Unleashed by Petco store from Georgetown Metropolitan.) According to the GM blog entry, the company has had some teething difficulties in figuring out how to properly merchandise store windows in the urban setting.