A smaller-format, neighborhood-oriented retailer beat out big-box competitors to rank as the nation’s favorite home improvement retailer in a just-released study.

Ace Hardware, known for its neighborly service and an intense focus on the customer experience, earned the top spot, with a composite loyalty score of 63%, in a study by Market Force Information.

Menards ranked second, with a 60% score, followed by Lowe’s, with 55%, and Home Depot, with 51%. (In order to be included in the category, a traditional home improvement brand must have been selected by 100 or more respondents representing 2% or more of total. Only Ace, Menards, Lowe’s and Home Depot qualified).

Market Force also looked at how the top brands fare in operational and product attributes that matter most to consumers. Ace Hardware ranked first in most categories, with particularly strong marks for ease of finding merchandise, staff service and knowledge, and speedy checkouts.

Menards scored highest for merchandise variety and value, while Lowe’s earned the top spot for parking availability. Home Depot ranked last of the brands in all service categories, as well as cleanliness and value.

Market Force’s research revealed that 60% of consumers consider themselves “DIY enthusiasts,” who not only purchase the materials…