Backed by Visa, Ace steps up its rewards

October 3, 2010 | By Ken Clark

The ability to bring instant credit to the sales floor of Ace Hardware stores is seen as a powerful new sales tool for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based co-op. And that’s just the beginning of the benefits of the new Ace Rewards Visa, according to executives.

The new payment card, rolled out in late August, is a major breakthrough in hardware store payment strategy—it’s the first time for a hardware co-op to pair up with one of the big payment networks with a rewards card. Issued by U.S. Bank, the Visa card is available in a consumer version, plus a version designed for small business owners.

“We’re definitely excited,” said Dana Larsen, Ace Hardware’s brand manager. “It provides another tool to help us sell higher ticket items.”

Here’s how the instant credit program might play out: A customer walks into an Ace store. He sees a grill he really likes, but he hesitates. A store employee approaches with a proposition. If you sign up for the Visa Rewards Ace credit card, you can get instant credit, pick up some valuable Reward Points to be used later, and take the grill home with no money down.

Once the customer and the store employee fill out the form and type in the data, the instant credit line access takes just seconds, Larsen said, and provides a previously unavailable financing tool. “They can use 10% of their total approved spend on their purchases that day,” she said.

In-store signage will also promote the availability of the card and instant credit, she said.

Along with an infusion of credit, the launch of the Ace Rewards Visa is described as a way to take the co-op’s 20-million strong Ace Rewards customer loyalty program to a new level.

Cardholders will have the ability to earn points everywhere they shop, thereby accumulating points to redeem with Ace and driving additional traffic to Ace stores.

“The launch of our Ace Rewards Visa is a strategic tool to increase sales and customer loyalty,” said John Surane, VP marketing, merchandising and paint for Ace. “It is a competitive differentiator and will attract new customers to our brand, as well as provide yet another benefit to current Ace Rewards members.”

The card has no annual fee and is offered in conjunction with the existing Ace Rewards customer loyalty program, which currently is available in 2,600 stores across the country and includes about 20 million members, according to Ace. Those members may use the card as a way to earn more rewards points whether they use the card at Ace or elsewhere. Cardholders may earn up to 5% in reward dollars to redeem at Ace Hardware stores, 2% on gas and grocery purchases and 1% anywhere Visa is accepted. In addition, cardholders receive a $10 bonus coupon upon signing up for the card.

The version of the card designed for small business owners allows them to obtain additional cards with set spending caps for employees, and then receive detailed card statements to track employee spending. Currently, trainers are in the field emphasizing some of the finer points of the program—for instance, how to handle instant credit access.

“While the consumer card helps our customers take care of their homes and get on to the things that matter most in their lives, the small business card provides the type of features that these businesses need to help manage their business, while also stimulating Ace loyalty,” Surane said. “The Ace Rewards Visa is another way that we can exceed our customers’ service expectations, while simultaneously promoting the strength of our brand.”

As with any co-branded credit card, Ace also expects to benefit from branding with what is known in credit card circles as a “billboard in the wallet.” It will allow for more consumer touch points such as messaging in monthly billing statements.

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