Since beginning 32 years ago, ACE has followed the same disciplined practice of balanced growth through adding new stores, acquiring existing operations, expanding products, and enhancing services. Today, ACE serves more than two million customers each month.
As the savings rate of the average American plummeted to an all time low, a greater number of families was saddled with hefty credit card debts. Increasingly, check cashers ‘ prime customers were no longer the urban poor, but rather “ white-collar job holders who use their services to make ends meet, ” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. So-called “ payday ” loans – in which check cashers allowed a customer to write a post-dated check and cash it on the spot for a fee – became an important aspect of the industry. As a result of the changing client base, check cashing outlets became more prevalent in suburban areas. Like its competitors, ACE reported that its most rapid growth by the mid-1990s occurred in suburban roadside shopping malls.
With its growing customer base, ACE was able to expand both its geographical presence and its range of services. In 1994 the company introduced ACE Bill Pay, which allowed ACE ‘ s walk-in customers to pay utility and other bills on the premises for a small fee (an arrangement not unlike the relationship between Mailboxes Etc. and the United States Postal Service, where the private company essentially acts as an intermediary and charges a premium for doing so). In December 1994 the company made two major acquisitions – of ChecksFirst Corp., a 19-store chain in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, as well as the four-store Check Cashers business. Sales in 1994 rose to $39.9 million. More acquisitions followed in 1995, when ACE purchased the 31-store Quick Cash Inc. chain. In October ACE finally added Check Express to its empire. The Check Express transaction proved especially important, since that firm had by then become the largest franchiser of check-cashing stores in the country. To augment its numerous acquisitions, ACE opened 117 new stores in 1995. Sales for the year topped $47 million. Guided by Check Express ‘ s expertise in franchising, ACE began to franchise the ACE name to check-cashing centers nationwide. A total of 105 new stores (including franchises) opened in 1996 and 120 opened in 1997. ACE paydayloansohio.net/cities/north-canton/ reported a record-breaking $87.4 million in sales in 1997.
New Services: 1998 and Beyond
Despite its leading position in the check-cashing industry, ACE faced a number of challenges in the late 1990s. Its competitors had taken note of ACE ‘ s accomplishments and adopted similar, expansion-focused strategies. By 1998, as a result, one-third of the nation ‘ s 6,000 check-cashers were owned by six companies. In addition to heated competition among businesses in the field, the industry was confronted by the rise of paperless transaction, which threatened to erode check-cashers ‘ most important business – cashing checks. This new phenomenon was alarming to check-cashers because it threatened to do away with checks entirely, distributing funds through electronic transfers instead. But it also proved popular with the public: a number of U.S corporations implemented direct payroll deposits, and the federal government began to explore the possibility of implementing an Electronics Benefits Transfer system, whereby benefits such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and social security would no longer be issued with checks but would instead be directly deposited into bank accounts.
As a result of these changes, ACE redoubled its efforts to develop non-check-cashing services, shore up its business with existing customers, and reach new customers. In a ploy to win customer loyalty, ACE issued the industry ‘ s first-ever frequent user card in 1998. The company hoped this would prove to be a popular feature since status “ isn ‘ t often conferred on our customers, ” an ACE executive told Fortune magazine. By June 1998, the company had issued more than four million of these Gold Cards. In 1998 ACE reached an agreement with retail giant Wal-Mart to open ACE outlets in 32 Wal-Mart stores.