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AFCHS Welcomes New Co-CEO & Store!

A Few Cool Hardware Stores welcomes a new CEO and hardware store!

Having just celebrated its 20th year in business, A Few Cool Hardware Stores (AFCHS) has more exciting news. This month, it welcomes as its new CEO, Craig Smith, founder and owner of Fairfax Ace Hardware, in Fairfax, Virginia! Smith brings with him 23 years of experience in the hardware business---and his store---which grows the employee-owned hardware store chain to 13 locations in DC, Baltimore, Montgomery County, and Northern Virginia.

Smith started as manager of Strosniders Hardware in Bethesda, MD in 1999 and opened Fairfax Ace Hardware in 2011. He also serves as an active member on the Corporate Advisory Board for Ace fundraising beneficiary Children's National Hospital, is part of Ace's national Retailer Input Team for Marketing, and leads his Local Ace Retailer group. “Great companies attract great people,” says Gina Schaefer, founder and current CEO. “I am pleased to welcome Craig as our new CEO and to add his entire team to the AFCHS family.” Schaefer will stay on as co-CEO throughout the onboarding process.

With 32 employees, Fairfax Ace Hardware spans about 12,000 square feet on its first floor and features a 4,000-square-foot mezzanine. The store is a more suburban location than the other AFCHS stores and services mostly single-family homeowners with big lawns and a love of grilling, so it is a major outdoor power tool (Stihl especially) and grilling destination.

The selection of a new CEO is part of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) process that Schaefer and her husband, CFO Marc Friedman, began in August 2021. In joining AFCHS, Fairfax Ace and its employees transition into the ESOP, which has already transferred 30% of company ownership to employees through a trust that allocates shares to eligible employees over time. While AFCHS is a member of the Ace retailer-owned hardware cooperative, its stores operate independently as an integral part of the communities they serve. The fact that employees have a stake in the company means an even better shopping experience for customers.

As an active community member with a customer-focused business model, Fairfax Ace fits into the AFCHS culture perfectly. “We give legendary customer service, have an engaged team, and are part of the fabric of the Fairfax community the way each of AFCHS’ other 12 locations are a key part of their individual communities,” says Smith. “I’m thrilled about joining AFCHS and continuing Gina’s legacy. The things she and her talented team have embedded in the company culture---giving people second chances, engaging the community, and operating with thoughtful core values---have laid a rock-solid foundation and paved the way for a bright future."