Bill Woodward and Max

Ace marks 40 years

By Andie King

August 15 marks the 40th anniversary of Woodward’s Ace Hardware, and the day will unfold just as Bill Woodward likes – no pomp and ceremony, just providing great customer service in the brightly-lit, colorful aisles all day.  

 “That’s the fun part,” enthused Bill, “meeting the people!” Every day is different, and he likes it that way. Whether a simple vacuum belt, or materials to build a playhouse, it can all be found on one of the tidy, but full shelves.  

Bill’s enthusiasm is contagious, and Woodward’s exudes a friendly, welcoming vibe. Dogs lead their owners in to get a treat at the counter, before shopping. Parents, who first came in as kids, now bring their own kids in for popcorn from the old-fashioned machine. 

Some stop by just to say “hi” to resident parrot Max, a yellow-naped Amazon. Maxwell, named after the Mad Max of Thunderdome fame, was inherited from a friend. For unknown reasons, Max does not care for women, and mercilessly mimicked the friend’s wife. So Max ended up at Ace, where he has resided for almost 30 years. He has a vocabulary of 200-300 words, and loves to interact with customers – but still dislikes women, even the female employees.

Bill’s dad, Dick Woodward, started the company, but Bill unwittingly charted its course. Dick managed two stores in Hutchinson, Kansas, and was mulling going out on his own. While the two were driving one day, he asked his son, “if you could live anywhere, where would you like to live?” Bill, 13, was thinking about warmer weather, and replied, “Hawaii, Florida or California!” 

Dick researched possible locations, narrowing the search to Inglewood or Santa Ana. The hurdle was convincing Ace Hardware to consider a distribution channel to California. At that time, orders were hand-written, mailed to the one Ace home office in Chicago, then products were loaded on trucks and shipped via rail to California – a process that took three weeks. 

The senior Woodward received permission to open the first Ace Hardware west of the Mississippi.   

Dick operated Ace's store #600 in Santa Ana from 1964 until it  outgrew the space in 1976. The Woodwards had the present building, at 2343 N. Tustin, built for them, and moved there in August 1976. Twenty years later, they bought the building.

Bill was a sophomore at Foothill High, Class of 69, when he began working part-time in the store. It developed into a full-time career after college, and he never looked back. Woodward opened a second location in 2003, taking over the former Pearson’s. It was situated only three miles from the main store, and “seemed like a good fit.” Today, stores #11599 and #600 are considered trendsetters by Ace, and staples in the neighborhoods they serve, providing charity donations and supporting community events.     

There are 47 employees between the two stores, some of whom have been at the company for 15 or 20 years. Jeff Bennett, the general manager, started with Woodward’s 22 years ago and worked his way up serving a customer base that, too, has grown – even to customers in Germany. 

Though the manner of doing business has changed over four decades – instead of a three-week turnaround, orders sent on Sunday are at the dock on Tuesday morning – the friendly and helpful customer service has not.