LONG BEACH — Dennis Company has been sold to a Kansas-based subsidiary of the Ace Hardware Corp. in a transaction that will become final March 26.
Run by the Dennis family since 1905, the local company owns five stores in Long Beach, Raymond, Aberdeen, Montesano and Elma. In recent years, it has been operated by brothers Brent and Randy Dennis, while their father Gary led the firm in the latter part of the 20th century.
In a Jan. 12 interview, Brent Dennis said the sale is close to a best-case scenario for the company’s 85 employees and thousands of customers, who will see continuity in local management, product lines and community engagement. Even the name will remain nearly the same, with only the addition of “Ace” to mark a closer affiliation with the giant supplier, from which Dennis Company already obtains much of its merchandise.
The purchaser is technically Westlake Ace Hardware, based in Lenexa, Kansas, with stores also located in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. In 2012, Westlake was acquired by Ace Retail Holdings, which in turn is a division of Ace Hardware Corp. The Dennis Company stores will be Westlake’s first locations on the West Coast.
The sales price has not been disclosed. Dennis said his family will continue to own all the real estate associated with the five stores, leasing it to Westlake.
A good fit
“Westlake’s basic core values align right with ours and they were very interested in us,” Dennis said regarding the process of finding a suitable purchaser for his company. “They are down-to-earth great people with strong ethics.”
Word of a sale had been circulating in Pacific County for several months, after the Dennises concluded the next generation of family members wasn’t interested in active involvement in retail sales here on the coast. Both Brent and Randy Dennis are of retirement age. Their four children — two for each brother — are pursuing other interests and succession planning necessitated finding a non-family buyer.
Discussions with Westlake, which coincidentally was also founded in 1905, reassured the Dennis family that Westlake recognizes the strengths of the local firm.
“Dennis Company is being treated differently than most of their acquisitions,” Dennis said. In part because of geographical distance from Kansas and different seasonal patterns between here and the Midwest, Westlake is leaving Dennis Company’s internal systems intact, with the expectation that the Washington state stores will continue to purchase and sell a variety of unique product lines. Westlake will serve Dennis Company’s existing charge accounts, and will be adding a rewards program. Employees will remain in their current positions, and Westlake provides “great benefits,” Dennis said.
The Dennis family has played key roles in Pacific County. For example they led the revival of the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival and host the annual Shop With A Cop events at Christmastime. Dennis said he expects all that to continue under Westlake.
“We are excited to welcome the Dennis Company into the Westlake family, expand our relationship within the communities they serve and continue their proud tradition of outstanding customer service,” Westlake president and CEO Joe Jeffries said in a press release.
On its website, Westlake said without reference to this specific acquisition that “While the merchandise may have changed, along with store locations and size, the commitment to be the best neighborhood hardware store in the market remains. This commitment is what has kept Westlake strong for its first century of service — and will keep us growing into our next century.”
Brent and Randy Dennis both plan to retire. Brent Dennis’ children — a teacher and an accountant — live out of state and he eventually expects to live near one of them. In the meantime he is maintaining community activities such as a volunteer position with the Red Cross. Randy Dennis recently remarried and now lives in Clatsop County.
End of an era
Dennis Company marked its centennial in business in 2005.
The Raymond-based company was founded by Stewart Lake “Bert” Dennis in 1905 as Shepard and Dennis Transfer Company. It sold firewood, coal and building materials. They also offered draying, piano and furniture moving, and blacksmithing services and served as a general store.
The store that started in Raymond a century ago and expanded to Long Beach in 1933 is still one of the most popular places to get “almost anything.” Stewart Lake Dennis never imagined selling razor clam licenses by computer or having HD televisions among the wares in his general store. However, his original idea of meeting the needs of his customers continues through today.
In 1940 the present Long Beach location was constructed at Pacific and 2nd Street North, including a storage facility for beer, wine, soda and Arden ice cream products. The front of the 50 by 148-foot building was used for retail sales.
In 1968 the Long Beach Dennis Company came of age as a 4,800-square-foot addition was completed. In 1973 a second story was erected for more storage and office space. In 1986 a 3,400-square-foot clothing retail area and second story was added to give Dennis Company its present look.