Past Present

It’s hard to write a story about Ace Mart, FE&S’ 2016 Dealer of the Year without referencing its founder Norman “Gus” Gustafson. And that’s with good reason.

While Gus may not have developed the cash-and-carry model for the foodservice equipment and supplies industry, he certainly perfected it. Gus found a model he liked, invested heavily, refined it and remained extremely loyal to it. He sought the advice of those who came before him and applied the best practices others shared with him. Gus felt it was important to pay it forward and shared his knowledge with countless dealers contemplating entering the retail space. This approach proved so potent that dealers still venture to San Antonio to seek guidance from the company’s current leadership, Gus’ children: Carl, Norma and Paul.

But this generation of Ace Mart leaders is writing its own chapter in the company’s annals and, spoiler alert: it takes the $108 million-a-year foodservice equipment and supplies dealer beyond its cash-and-carry roots. No worries, Ace Mart fans, cash-and-carry remains central to the company’s success moving forward. In fact, last year Ace Mart processed a staggering 665,000 transactions at its stores.

What is different is the fact that Ace Mart marches forward with four divisions — Retail Sales, Strategic & Bid Sales, E-Commerce and Wholesale Sales — and its corporate office serves as a shared services department that supports the rest of the business. At first glance, this represents a bold step forward from the company’s storied past. But if you grab a longneck bottle of beer and spend some time discussing the company’s future with the Gustafsons, as Gus would do back in the day, you will realize that Ace Mart remains very true to its roots.

The cornerstone of Ace Mart’s success is not its cash-and-carry model but the company’s honesty and integrity, unflinching dedication to customer service, openness and people. Ace Mart’s leaders understand that the model that’s inextricably tied to its past does not guarantee the company’s success moving forward. But by valuing its people, remaining focused on customer service and never compromising its integrity, Ace Mart continues to leverage one of the industry’s most solid foundations as it continues to grow its business.

This is so much easier said than done. The annals of family-run businesses remain littered with stories about how the first generation built a company from nothing only to see the hubris of the second or third generation tear it all down in an instant.

That’s not the story of Ace Mart, however (see page 30). In fact, this San Antonio-based company is teaching all of us, not just their dealer brethren this time, an important lesson: it is possible for an organization to remain true to their past while walking toward a prosperous future.