* Location: 26 locations in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina; Helpful Group's offices at 4921 Highway 58, Chattanooga.
* History: The Helpful Group is a cooperative comprised of 26 Elder's Ace Hardware store owners/operators. Tom Glenn, the Group's president and CEO for the past three decades, says his father, Elder Glenn, and three partners opened Chattanooga's first Ace store on Highway 58 in 1969.
"The first store outside Chattanooga was 1982 in Cleveland (Tennessee)," he says, adding that the Group opened stores in Knoxville in 2000 and Nashville in 2021. The Group has stores in four North Georgia counties as well and in Bryson City, North Carolina, he says.
Glenn says the Group has stock in Ace Hardware Corp., which has about 5,400 stores in the U.S. Glenn says he sat on the Ace Hardware Corp. board from 1995 to 2007, serving the last five of those years as chair.
The Chattanooga-based Group gets product, training and advertising from Ace Hardware Corp., he says, but at the same time, has "its own subculture."
"We are a local, family business, and we operate it that way," he says. "Our stores are perfectly aligned in terms of values," he adds, the first of which is "to honor God."
"There's humility around that, because we don't do it perfectly. We take it very seriously, especially where it concerns our stewardship of the business. I'm not sure why we're blessed and others aren't, so we have to make sure we never get too proud of ourselves."
Even so, a dollop of pride might not be inappropriate, given that "we now do north of $100 million annually," Glenn says.
"When (my father and his partners) first opened the Highway 58 store," he says, "they lost $5,000 that first year. They thought they were going to lose $5,000 (per year) for the rest of their lives."
Glenn says the Group's stores have reached the level of success they have because they focus on their customers.
"If a customer comes in wanting a faucet, and we talk and find out it's just a leak, we know how to fix that," he says. "If we need to offer something, fine, but we're here to help. The idea's not to always sell more.
"If you just help the customer, the money will take care of itself. (The business) changes all the time operationally, but I think that focus, that mission, has held up."
* Online: eldersacehardware.com
* Facebook: @eldershardware
* YouTube: @eldershardware9410
* Instagram: eldershardware