In honor of International Women’s Day, the DCSEU interviewed the owner of Annie’s Ace Hardware, Anne Stom, about the challenges of starting her own business, her advice to other women looking to do the same, and why it is important for her business to be sustainable. With stores located in Petworth and Brookland, Annie’s Ace was established in 2012 to offer customers personalized home repair expertise that cannot be found in a big-box store or through an online retailer. Annie’s Ace has partnered with the DCSEU to make its lighting more energy-efficient and offers customers discounted LED bulbs through the DCSEU’s instant lighting rebate program.
Q: What made you want to start Annie’s Ace Hardware and when did you open your first store?
A: I moved to Park View, a neighborhood adjacent to Petworth in May 2006. I purchased a home that had been loved and cared for by a family for 40 years but was in need of serious updating. As a DIYer from way back, I did most of the work myself in the evenings and on weekends. Although I pride myself on being able to think through projects and assemble necessary materials before starting a task, that is often almost impossible in an old house. What that meant for me, was frequent trips to the local big-box store. Although it is only 3 miles away and the fact that I knew that store like the back of my hand, the quickest that I was able to make a complete round trip was an hour and a half. That can quickly squelch the day’s momentum. Add to that, the store was large, chaotic, and there were very few sales associates with any home repair knowledge, which made it an unpleasant experience. I yearned for a local hardware store to make my life easier and a place where I could, hopefully, get some information on certain old house peculiarities
While I was doing my renovation, I noticed that many others were moving into the neighborhood and undertaking both large and small home repair/maintenance projects. It seemed to make sense that the neighborhood needed a good hardware store. Fortunately I didn’t know how hard it was to open one so I started the process. I spent the next year finalizing our business plan, scouting locations, and pulling together resources and opened the store on February 7, 2012. Since then we have grown, and now have another store in Brookland. Our staff has grown and all our managers started as sales associates. We pride ourselves on growing our own staff and frequently send associates and managers to a wide variety of training and professional development.
Q: Why is it important for your business to save energy and be sustainable?
A: One of the hardest things to control in business is a company’s financial strength. For us, utility costs are one thing that we can definitely control. Both of our stores have LED light fixtures which save us money on a monthly basis. These lights are also brighter and because they last much longer, I don’t have to have staff pulling out the ladder and replacing bulbs all the time.
Q: How did you hear about the DCSEU and what projects did you work on with the DCSEU?
A: Fortunately, DCSEU reached out to us when they were starting up and offered us the opportunity to participate in their light bulb rebate program. We are always looking for ways to save our customers some money. Plus we were in the process of converting from fluorescents and CFLs to LEDs so working with DCSEU was a no-brainer as they helped us to educate the customers both with instore signage and periodically setting up tables in our store to provide information to our customers.
Q: Your stores participate in the DCSEU’s residential lighting rebate program. Why do you think this program is important and what does your store do to help people find the most efficient light bulbs?
A: We all try to steer our customers to LED bulbs. Saves time, money and helps the environment.
Q: In addition to lighting, are there other ways that your stores can help people become more energy-efficient?
A: Sure. Installing a water-saving shower head and a low-flow toilet will definitely contribute to being more energy efficient. Making sure that you have eliminated drafts around your windows and doors with caulk, expanding foam and weatherstripping will help. We sell programmable thermostats including the NEST; these types of thermostats allow people to schedule either the heat or A/C at a lower temperature either at night or while they are away at work.
Q: Do you have any advice for those who are looking to start their own business?
A: The biggest mistake that I made was trying to do everything myself and not entrusting others with responsibilities or not taking the time to train people. It took me a while to let go of things and now when I look back on it, I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner as my staff can readily handle it and often bring other skills/talents/ideas to projects that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of.
Q: Do you have any specific advice for other women who are looking to start their own business?
A: My biggest pieces of advice for women starting a business are:
- You don’t have to know everything! Women often think they must be 100% perfect before they start anything. Not necessary. Mistakes are inevitable and are necessary to create a great business.
- Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
- Make sure that you have a good lawyer, a good accountant and good friends. These folks will help you through the good, the bad, the ugly and will give you perspective when you need it….which will be often.