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Store Manager Nick Eades (left) and Assistant Manager Debbie Kraklau stand outside the renovated Ace Hardware
in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch
Store Manager Nick Eades (left) and Assistant Manager Debbie Kraklau stand outside the renovated Ace Hardware in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

Ace Hardware renovations update store inside and out

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news Brainerd, 56401

Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Recent renovations to the Ace Hardware exterior — moving the entrance and re-designing the interior — is helping people rediscover the Brainerd mainstay.

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Ace Hardware has been part of the Tyrol Hill shopping center in Brainerd since the 1960s. A year ago, brothers Mike and Mark Weibolt purchased the Brainerd hardware store.

Renovations included updating and moving the front doors that opened on the side of the store — holdovers from the days when the space was home to a SuperValu. The Gustafson family still owns the mall. Ace Hardware originally opened on the east end, before later moving after the former grocery store left.

Renovation changes created a spacious store entry with a view extending nearly to the rear of the store. The store footprint didn’t change so much as the layout, where changes in how things were presented actually made room for more product. It gave store managers a chance to look at inventory they wanted to keep, what to let go and what new product lines to bring in.

About a third of the way down the aisle, a help hub is the place for key cutting and special orders. The store’s best-selling area remains its paint and sundries department. Other top ares include plumbing and electrical supplies.

“We are your convenience hardware store,” said Nick Eades, who came on as store manager last September. “We are the place people come for all the trouble-shooting, odds and ends, specialty pieces.”

Customers are often those weekend warriors of home improvement projects. Brainerd’s Ace Hardware repairs screens, rebuilds windows, has bin after bin of nuts and bolts of every make and size and is looking to add more. It’s a place where rope can be purchased by the foot, or a lawnmower blade sharpened or a small engine repaired.

“We have a very knowledgeable staff,” Eades said, noting the age range of employees is from 21 to more than 80.

Eades said what helps set Ace Hardware apart is the service. Customers are greeted at the door and offered assistance in finding the part they are looking for — and if they just want to browse, the radio communication between staff members will alert the employees the customer wants to look through without assistance.

Eades said the assistance is offered as Ace places a value on customer’s time in order to get them in and out and on to their plans as quickly as possible. He recently received an email from a customer who said they were able to stop by during a work break, purchase a part and be back to their car in four minutes.

Eades said the renovations have definitely played a role in bringing people to the store and growth numbers show those customers are coming back for repeat visits.

People, he said, are sometime surprised at what the store has to offer from a sharpening service for everything from scissors to ice augers to chain saws, a selection of grills like the Big Green Egg, Weber’s and LA smoker grill. Employees assemble everything for customers.

In addition, Ace has cleaning supplies, housewares, rental carpet cleaners, gardening supplies, offers UPS shipping, and installs watch batteries.

“There are a lot of things we carry that people are surprised we have,” Eades said.

Special orders are one of the hardware store’s busy areas. The Brainerd store is also the full-service center for Husqvarna. They’ve also had customers drive here from an hour or two away in order to get Eden Pure heaters serviced.

Eades became store manager in September. He said he’d been shopping at the Brainerd Ace for 20 years and never new it had a small machine repair shop in the back and service mechanic for tune-ups and rebuilds.

The store employs 15, about three-quarters of those jobs are full time.

“I love the multi-tasking,” said Debbie Karaklau, assistant manager. She’s been with Ace Hardware for 43 years, almost all of those in Brainerd with the exception of four years in Hawaii.

Eades was in the beverage industry for 23 years, at the end spending a lot of time at a desk chair.

“I love to tinker and learn,” he said. “I love working around the house. When the opportunity came along it was right up my alley. I can see myself growing old here. I’m looking to see what the next 23 years bring.”

Eades said the locally owned store continues in the tradition of the neighborhood hardware store.

A grand opening is planned June 13 and June 14. Customers may register for prizes, factory representatives will be on hand and lunch will be served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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