As an essential business, Ace Hardware fast-tracked a digital strategy in 2020 when its customers needed it the most. Its retail technology moves paid off, helping to catapult the company into the No. 4 position of an annual ranking of the 400 largest U.S. franchise systems.
“The Franchise Times’ Top 400 List” ranks by global systemwide sales, based on the previous year’s performance. In a five-month research process, building upon a database that began in 1999, The Franchise Times’ research team uses a combination of companies’ voluntary reports and publicly available data, including the franchises’ most recent franchise disclosure documents and Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
On this year's list, Ace Hardware, the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the world, jumped up a spot from No. 5. "We moved at a breakneck pace to enable three main phases of our digital strategy,” said John Surane, EVP, chief merchandising and sales officer, Ace Hardware Corporation.
The retailer’s phase 1 included “fast fixes,” order tracking and cancellation, and Ace Rewards integration. Its phase 2 encompassed “game changers,” which included order pickup process and the brand’s mobile consumer app. Its last phase was labeled “transformation,” which brought mobile help and last mile white glove service.
“Our marketing, digital and IT teams worked tirelessly to bring to market over 660 enhancements to our platform when our stores and customers needed it — and continue to need it most,” said Surane.
Another retailer known for harnessing technology to thrive took the top spot on the list yet again this year.
“McDonald’s retained the No. 1 position by just over $1 billion, even as its systemwide sales declined by 6.8% to $93.3 billion one year after cresting the $100 billion mark,” The Franchise Times said. As of late, McDonald’s launched its first nationwide loyalty program via the McDonald’s app and has pledged to achieve net zero emissions across its global operations by 2050.
Overall, the Top 400 sales results “mostly followed the logic of what would happen if the whole world was asked to sit at home for two weeks, a few months and then the remainder of the year,” The Franchise Times reported.
Hotels, trampoline parks, fitness and swimming schools dipped, while home services ticked up 5.6% and within that broad category home improvement franchises performed especially well. “The group’s 11.2% overall sales increase proved people had plenty of time to stare at broken drawers, chipped paint and ugly fixtures.”
Additionally, the largest 200 franchised brands saw locations dwindle by 0.3%, while the retailers in the top 10 ended the year with 2.3% fewer U.S. locations, a cut of 1,953.
Below, RIS examines the top ten retailers on the list and their use of technology. To see the full ranking, click for the “The Franchise Times’ Top 400 List.”