Davis Ace Hardware: Corporate Owners Change Store and President Weighs In, Part 2

by Jordan Varney and Emily Dill

DAVIS — For 105 years, the Anderson family owned part or all of the Davis Ace Hardware. In April 2019, Jennifer Anderson sold the store to Crown Ace Hardware, a company based out of Huntington Beach, California that owns 16 Ace Hardwares.

As part of the Vanguard’s investigation into COVID-19 cases at the Davis Ace, the Vanguard talked to multiple current and former employees about the corporate owners of the store as well as the president of Crown Ace, Mark Schulein. Workers that the Vanguard talked to noted changes and frustrations in how the Davis Ace was run when Crown Ace took over.

Employees said that lunches were cut from an hour to half an hour. Sources noted that employees were stripped of certain permissions. One source said “most of us aren’t allowed on AceNet anymore [the site that they order products from]” while another said, “it used to be that everybody could do that” and that there were a lot of “little annoying inconveniences like that.”

One source took a stronger stance, saying that Crown Ace “slowly stripped away basic permissions from employees that allowed us to do our jobs efficiently.”

A source we talked to identified what they felt like was a “dramatic change in demographics” at the store that “gives insight into how Crown Ace operates.” They explained that before the Crown Ace takeover the Davis Ace workforce was composed of “ex-mechanics, handymen, garden experts, people that really knew what they were talking about.” But when Crown Ace took over, “they saw the fact that we’re a university town and decided to base the model off of high turnover. Basically going more for cheap labor rather than skilled labor and people that know what they were doing.” Consequently, “we have definitely lost a lot of the expertise that we had previously.”

NLRB Finds Merit in Unfair Labor Practice Claim Filed by Davis Ace Employee Who Expressed COVID-19 Safety Concerns to Corporate

There was disagreement among the sources about whether or not someone at Davis Ace could make more than $15 an hour, with one saying, “Crown just refuses to pay anyone a decent wage, we max out at $15…they’re prioritizing cheaper labor and cutting costs over being the expertise that Ace is kind of known for.” 

In direct contradiction of that, another source said that they “personally make more than $15 an hour, and I’m just a regular associate.”

Multiple Glassdoor reviews of Crown Ace note low pay, with one saying that employees are “overworked and underpaid” and another saying they are “under compensated, under appreciated.”

A Glassdoor review of Davis Ace written in August 2020 stated to “watch out for a certain manager. He grooms his young female cashiers into sleeping with him…please look into the rampant sexual abuse in a certain department.” 

When asked about this, none of our sources reported knowing about these allegations but did know of other possible instances of inappropriate jokes at Davis Ace more recently. One of them would not speak on the record about it and one of them told us that the person in question got transferred recently.

When Crown Ace took over, the local human resources (HR) representative was let go and the corporate HR worker stepped in. Most of the employees we talked to
had seen but never met any of the Crown Ace managers or HR workers. 

“It’s a lot different from when Jennifer Anderson was there, because she was there almost every day,” one said, but now “they’re not really in touch with what’s going on.” Another source added, “I’ve only ever seen [a corporate employee] once, and they were talking to [the managers] and it seemed very important…so I walked the other way.” 

The Crown Ace HR representative is in charge of contact tracing the positive COVID-19 cases of Davis Ace employees. One employee said when they informed HR of a possible exposure from a coworker, Crown Ace “waved it off until my coworker had a positive test and even then wanted me to get back to work, until I walked them through the incubation period.” 

When asked if employees have been actively at work who have later tested positive, one source said they were exposed to multiple people at work who then tested positive for COVID-19.

In the earlier parts of the pandemic, because Crown Ace wanted “discretion” with positive COVID-19 cases at the store, they would “release it eventually, a few days after someone got the coronavirus.” More recently, however, “they tell us within 24 hours of finding out.” One worker said, “I don’t think there’s any type of maliciousness at all, they’re not trying to keep it from us.”

During the Crown Ace takeover, the responsibilities of Davis Ace employees who were let go were delegated to corporate employees and the manager of the Davis Ace. The sources we talked to had mixed reactions about the manager. One source said “he encourages us to go to him with any concerns that we have.” A worker said he was “friendly” but also “looks tired a lot.”

They further specified that because the HR representative is at Crown Ace headquarters which is “far away,” and that “a lot of HR stuff that can be only done in house was done by him [the manager].” One source said about the HR representative that she will come in “every now and then.”

Another source said that the Davis Ace manager was “ok but pretty dismissive,” and that he “has a lot of workload on him after Crown took over and now he’s doing the work of like three people.” Another source took a stronger stance saying, “I think he could have done more to advocate for additional protections for workers but was and is unwilling to take our concerns into consideration. He’ll do what corporate tells him and isn’t really concerned with how it affects employees.”

The Vanguard reached out to Davis Ace management as well as Crown Ace, and heard back from the president of Crown Ace, Mark Schulein.

He first emphasized Crown Ace’s commitment to the city of Davis. “We employ many local people, pay local taxes and support the city,” he said. Later on he described his admiration for Davis: “Davis is an outstanding community and one that we are very proud to be a part of and we plan to be a core part of the community for a long time.” He wrapped up his thoughts with “it’s not “just a business” to us… it’s a family, a legacy, and a community that we’re proud to serve.”

He also noted that Davis Ace “raised over $14,000 in 2020 for UC Davis Children’s Hospital.”

Schulein provided some bullet point information about Davis Ace. He said there have been six total COVID-19 cases among employees; in 2020, ​$79,336 was paid in bonuses to non-management employees; and the average tenure of those working at Davis Ace is 3.6 years with “many over 5, 10 and 20 years.”

With regard to COVID-19 policy, he said that “we have worked incredibly hard to be a safe environment since day one of COVID. This is hard work; not just ensuring a safe place to work and shop but addressing the emotions and perspectives of the public and our staff. Retail workers including our team have been tasked with being the ‘mask police’ which puts our team in a very challenging position.”

When asked about wages being capped at $15/hour Schulein said, “The wage range of non-salaried team members is $14-$23 per hour…misconceptions around wages, I don’t believe there is one. We have a wage key that provides clarity to team members of their wage opportunity based on their role, skill and knowledge, we work to be transparent in our growth opportunities.”

In terms of addressing rats at the Davis Ace, he said, “The rat situation is and has been handled aggressively internally and by third party professionals.”

Regarding HR, Schulein stated, “We have a HR Manager on our Support Team that manages and oversees HR activities. So no, [the Davis Ace manager] is not the HR manager, and has a HR professional fully engaged with him and the store at all times. The HR manager interacts with store management as well as directly with team members constantly. It is an open door policy.”

Regarding the allegations of inappropriate conduct, Schulein said, “We have not been made aware of any such situation nor has such a complaint been made to Store Management or HR.” He further specified that “we have a clearly defined process to deal with any HR complaint or concerns. We will investigate and take appropriate action on all such reports. We have HR attorneys available to us in the case we need higher level support and we take all HR situations very seriously.”

A possible HR inquiry arose when the Vanguard originally published about the COVID-19 cases at Davis Ace. The undergraduate writer of the piece received a direct message on her personal Instagram account that said:

“Hi Emily great article on Davis Ace but you committed a rookie mistake in journalism by not getting Davis Ace side of the story … oops! Can you reach out to them I’m dying to hear what management has to say about these allegations- thanks!”

The Instagram account that contacted the Vanguard student writer did not have a name attached to it but had over 1,000 followers. 

After some investigation, the anonymous Instagram account was found to have many mutual follows and followers with the official Crown Ace Instagram account, including one employee’s girlfriend, son, and father. The Instagram account that contacted the writer also follows former president Donald Trump and an account titled “Donald Trump Fans.” The Vanguard believes a Crown Ace employee runs the anonymous Instagram account that contacted the writer.

This Crown Ace employee has posted on his own, named Instagram account lamenting the closing of beaches in Orange County using the hashtags “LiberateOC” and “RemoveNewsom” and liking a comment saying there were “Satanic Cults running the Government.” The employee also agreed with someone who said his son in the Marines might need to “strap up and protect” at a George Floyd protest that happened in Huntington Beach.

When asked about this Instagram message and account, Schulein said, “This is new information to me and we are investigating.” The Instagram account has since been deleted.

This employee activity, including anonymously contacting a local writer, raises questions about the commitment of some parts of the corporation to adhere to COVID-19 regulations as well as their desire to influence local communication on the issue.

In regard to the first part of this article series and the information from sources the Vanguard received, the president of the company said that “some reports have been made to you that aren’t true representations of us.”

He went on to state that “we are passionate about providing a great and safe place to work and shop where we can truly make a difference in the lives of our team and our customers by being safe, effective, high integrity and doing good.”


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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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30 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    I don’t know what to believe after reading this article, it’s all over the place.  Many accusations made  are then followed by someone else saying saying just the opposite.

    “Hi Emily great article on Davis Ace but you committed a rookie mistake in journalism by not getting Davis Ace side of the story … oops! Can you reach out to them I’m dying to hear what management has to say about these allegations- thanks!”

    I’m not following why this communication was scrutinized so much.  I think everyone would agree that it’s good journalism to seek the other side of the story.  Why was someone simply asking this further investigated so much?

    This employee activity and anonymously contacting a local writer raises questions about the commitment of some parts of the corporation to adhere to COVID-19 regulations as well as their desire to influence local communication on the issue.

    Once again, how does someone asking for the other side of the story lead to this conclusion?

    1. David Greenwald

      I do know they reached out multiple times to Crown for a comment and finally got someone to respond and go on the record. I think that was put in there for background.

    2. Keith Y Echols

      Yes, I was also wondering why the “account’s” (man that’s weird to type….this interwebs social media stuff as a legit form of communication is still weird to me) political background is relevant to the story?  I mean, I find it pretty repugnant….but also irrelevant.  At face value the comment seems relevant to the topic at hand; simply asking for more info from a different point of view….regardless if it may be the person asking the question who’s point of view that is in question.

      The article is all over the place but to be fair the article is trying to piece together comments from multiple sources.  It even straight up says that some of them are in contradiction to each other….so it’s just reporting what it hears.  But piecing it together coherently was probably tricky.

    3. Alan Miller

      I don’t know what to believe after reading this article, it’s all over the place.  Many accusations made  are then followed by someone else saying saying just the opposite.

      Sounds like reading the voter guide before an election “arguments for . . . arguments against arguments for”.  Or watching Fox News and then CNN.

      “Hi Emily great article on Davis Ace but you committed a rookie mistake in journalism by not getting Davis Ace side of the story … oops! Can you reach out to them I’m dying to hear what management has to say about these allegations- thanks!”

      not following why this communication was scrutinized so much.  I think everyone would agree that it’s good journalism to seek the other side of the story.  Why was someone simply asking this further investigated so much?

      Good question about the weird ‘scrutiny’.  I asked virtually the same question in the comment section of the original article – though I didn’t target the writer and call them rookies.  I was more critical of ACE not coming out immediately and still am – and am actually avoiding ACE as are many of us – probably permanently shopping elsewhere when it’s possible.

      But there was all this:

      The Instagram account that contacted the writer also follows former president Donald Trump and an account titled “Donald Trump Fans.” . . . named Instagram account lamenting the closing of beaches in Orange County using the hashtags “LiberateOC” and “RemoveNewsom” and liking a comment saying there were “Satanic Cults running the Government.” The employee also agreed with someone who said his son in the Marines might need to “strap up and protect” at a George Floyd protest that happened in Huntington Beach.

      Does this stuff work?  I mean the person has conservative values and follows Trump memes, so we shame and discredit them that way?  Whatever you think of that brand of conservatives, that isn’t a way to do business – link people to a way of thinking and go “see!”.  And wishing to remove Newsom makes you bad?  Thinking beaches should be open makes you bad?  OK, whatever.  I also think while some may believe extreme memes like Satanic Cults and that’s scary, some shared this to troll with a ‘wink wink’ I know this cuz I know conservatives who did that just like Trump trolled liberal emotions with outrageous statements to keep the left amped-up as a method of control – and it worked, for 3.8 years.

      Having said that $14K for a charity why flaunt that?  Management coming out only now reeks, and the story has some reality pieces, but why coming out now only in DV?  Lame.  Management has pooched this, and clearly the employees interviewed didn’t give a clear story either.  This whole thing reeks.

      And the rats!  Oh, the rats.

    4. Keith Y Echols

      I think all that political background stuff of the mysterious instagram account (that still amuses me) is meant to IMPLY by the writers that maybe Crown Ace does not truly believe in Covid as a serious threat and therefore did not take their job’s seriously in managing and preventing employee exposure by linking it to politically conservative leanings?  I dunno…IMO it kind of undermines the article.

      1. Keith Olsen

        IMO it kind of undermines the article.

        Totally agree.  There were many anonymous allegations put forward in this article but why was the only  background that was reported on was the person who asked for the other side of the story?

        1. Keith Y Echols

          I do not know what kind of editorial control David has with his writers.  I thought he was going to step back and function as the editor in chief going forward.  Maybe he agrees with that segment’s inclusion in the article or maybe his agreement with his writers is to be hands off….I don’t know.

        2. Keith Y Echols

          In general, we have allowed the student publications to publish without out interference.

          I get it; allowing the students freedom of expression and to write about what they think is important.  But if you’re not going to directly edit their pieces, I might suggest some corrective feedback that might tightens up these stories?  I dunno…I guess it depends of if you’re going for relatively bona fide journalism or an opinionated underground blog (and I don’t mean that as a slight but highlighting the distinction).

  2. Ron Oertel

    Does this stuff work?  I mean the person has conservative values and follows Trump memes, so we shame and discredit them that way?  Whatever you think of that brand of conservatives, that isn’t a way to do business – link people to a way of thinking and go “see!”.  And wishing to remove Newsom makes you bad?  Thinking beaches should be open makes you bad?  OK, whatever.

    It’s already assumed (and ingrained in their belief system, for some).  That’s all the “evidence” that they need, in regard to some other point.  🙂

    And if anyone ever defends a Trump supporter (or really – any conservative) in any way, shape or form – they are also bad by association. And most likely, assumed to be a “closet” Trump supporter, themselves. 🙂

    Possibly a racist, too. Or at least, a “systemic racism” supporter. And for sure – privileged.

    1. Ron Oertel

      On a larger scale, though, “investigations” like this suggest that no employee (anywhere) should make any political or controversial comments on any social media, at any time.  Even “anonymously”.

      Lest they get into trouble, with management.

      There is no free speech (if one is an employee), especially if one expresses opinion against a prevailing view (e.g., in a given geographic area).

      Except perhaps for some professions that are provided much more leeway, such as university professors.

       

    2. Alan Miller

      And if anyone ever defends a Trump supporter (or really – any conservative) in any way, shape or form – they are also bad by association.

      I resemble that remark.

      And most likely, assumed to be a “closet” Trump supporter, themselves.

      I don’t resemble that remarke.

      Possibly a racist, too. Or at least, a “systemic racism” supporter. And for sure – privileged.

      Dearest reader, you be the judge.  You already are . . . . . (lest ye be judged)

  3. Keith Y Echols

    Is Aggie Ace (located on Covell and Anderson) part of Crown Ace?  That’s where I usually shop. And lately I have to go there fairly frequently (I bought and replaced a toilet fill valve all by myself!).  I’ve had great customer service there.  I go Davis Ace occasionally (I think I last went there looking for Christmas lights and was last there the year before looking for Christmas lights…I think I bought a drill there a few years ago).

    I do not want to get into the “fair” wages stuff.  If the reports are true that the really knowledgably workers have been let go that’s disappointing.  But that’s something for market forces to work out; weather or not those knowledgably workers were really needed to sell most things to the customers.  I also don’t know who is worth $14/hr and $17/hr and if I need to inspect Crown Ace’s finances to see if their profit margins support paying their employees more.  As a customer, I just don’t see that as my role.

    The Covid stuff and harassments stuff, I do take into consideration.  Ultimately after what sounds to be many missteps and violations are the employees generally satisfied with Crown Ace’s Covid mitigation and management policies and execution going forward?  If not…then I will buy my Christmas lights elsewhere.   The harassment comment was disturbing but it didn’t seem like it’s part of the overall culture there.  But if it were, I would also take into account and would encourage people to not shop there.

    I think one thing to keep in perspective is that you’re always going to get some report of disgruntled employees at most work places; especially if they’re allowed to comment anonymously.   As long as their reports against the company aren’t egregious (which IMO poor covid management/compliance and harassment claims are), I wouldn’t pay much attention to it.

  4. Bill Marshall

    Without excusing any bad practices or behaviors, if true, will bet a bunch that it is the ONLY firm doing business in Davis, tht same, similar, or worse things have happened… thinking of a pizza operation @ Oak Tree Plaza, and possibly even bigger ones with corporate structure far beyond Davis.

    Perhaps the uniqueness of a family-held business converting to what amounts to a ‘franchise’ makes it of such interest to get multiphase “investigatory ‘reporting’…”.

    Doesn’t matter to me… if I need a hardware or nursery item now, I buy in Davis… for bigger purchases I look more to prices (inc. cost of travel) and service… my experience with the ‘new’ Davis Ace has declined little since Crown acquired them.

  5. Ron Oertel

    Davis is fortunate that another buyer stepped in to save ACE.  Too bad that the housewares building is no more.

    Hardware stores (and the like) are often one of the first things to go, as cities redevelop. And, new residents often aren’t “do-it-yourselfers”, anyway.

    Davis has already lost Hibbert’s.

    Has anyone ever looked into the reason that a significant investment was made in the new, solar-covered parking lot (immediately prior to selling the store, I believe)? Was there a change in plans after that, or was that done to make it more “sellable”?

    1. Don Shor

      Davis is fortunate that another buyer stepped in to save ACE.

      They didn’t “save” Ace. The owners retired and sold the business. I believe they still own the property.

      1. Ron Oertel

        That information does not change the fact that the new owners saved ACE.  But, it would be interesting to confirm whether or not the new owners also purchased the land.

        Had it not been for another party interested in continuing to operate it as a hardware store, it would not continue. Which I suspect was entirely possible. You cannot “force” an entity to operate a hardware store.

        I believe the Hibbert’s owners also retired (but that it will not continue as a hardware/lumber store). I suspect that the Hibbert’s site is likely going to (eventually) house a massive apartment building.

        Your definitions are rather stretched at times.  Similar to the way you don’t acknowledge that the Davis Innovation Center “failed” before it even reached voters.

        1. Don Shor

          When you decide to retire, you can sell your business, you can sell your land, you can sell your business with the land.
          It was marketed as a business. They sold the business. The new owners didn’t ‘save’ it. Had they not come along, I have little doubt the family would have simply kept it on the market to sell to another buyer.

          Your definitions are rather stretched at times.

          “Saved” and “failed” are not accurate in either case where you are using them.

      2. Bill Marshall

        There are (at least) three properties, Don… the ‘rock yard’, the hardware/nursery/gardening/pet shop one, and the former housewares one, south of Third.

        Easy to find out… go to Co. Assessor’s website, get APN, then look it up… anyone can do it, if it is important to them… it is not to me… but if you and/or Ron O are really interested, easy to find… (this comment should be considered a PSA, and not counted in the ‘limits’)…

  6. Sharla Cheney

    I can’t tell from the article whether the COVID related issues were resolved.  I do note that the employees do not seem to have a background in gardening or construction, so are often not helpful beyond locating a specific item or part that is requested.  I find this a problem at Home Depot too.  Oh, how I wish we still had Hibbert Lumber in town – where you could go in with a problem and someone – an employee or some customer that just happened to be there – could walk you through how to fix it and help you find the parts or supplies.  If ACE wants to step into that missing element in Davis, they need to try to replicate it – hire knowledgeable people and with better items for sale.  Unfortunately, that would eliminate many of the current employees’ jobs.  I looked all over to find an item that I needed to treat a redwood deck.  I finally located it at the ACE in Winters.   I found the ACE Hardware in Winters to be much better than Davis.  It has everything and employees that know what they are doing.  It had the feel of Hibberts.

     

     

    1. Alan Miller

      Haven’t been there in awhile, but Supply Hardware in West Sac, about a twelve mile drive were excellent last I was there, if they are still in business and haven’t been sold and acquired rats.

      Checked, they are still there, have great reviews. Very much a contractor old-fashioned hardware store with experienced people who can really help. 700 Harbor Blvd. (And yes, I own stock 😐 )

      1. Bill Marshall

        Will have to check that hardware store out… before they closed their doors, the two places I went to for ‘really tricky’ needs, advice, was Hibbert’s, Cranston Bros in Woodland, or, long ago, the hardware store @ Davis Manor shopping center… the latter, if they didn’t have an item in stock, they’d know where you could get it, or order it for you, and would spend time to accurately explain how to do the repair… bought many things, including my first Skil saw, and got a lot of great advice in the ’79-83 window…

        Cranston Bros was probably my favorite… Dad loved it too… it was a bit ‘funky’, two stories, but if you needed a part for an older house, they had it or got it for you, and would tell you exactly how to make the repair…

        Those were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end… forever and a day… I was wrong.

    2. Alan Miller

      yeah I’m a little lost on electronics now with Fry’s going down.  Radio Shack was sh*t but at least I could get a part there quickly – then run to Fry’s on occasion.  Now where?  (except internet – but sometimes you need to bring your part and actually plug the connector in to make sure it fits).  Anyone know of good electronics supply stores remaining?

    3. Keith Olsen

      I’ve noticed that most of the corporate hardware stores don’t have the experienced and knowledgeable help they used to have.  IMO Home Depot has gone downhill the most in this aspect.  They got sued a few years back and were forced to change their hiring and workstation assignment practices and their service has suffered ever since.

  7. Keith Olsen

    The sources we talked to had mixed reactions about the manager. One source said “he encourages us to go to him with any concerns that we have.” A worker said he was “friendly” but also “looks tired a lot.”

    Well there you go.  He looks tired a lot.  Maybe Ace is guilty of not serving stronger coffee? Add that to the list.

     

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