Valley News – Bottom Line: Retired business owners are finding buyers to carry on the legacy
I can’t count the number of stories I’ve written over the past few years about long-time Upper Valley family businesses that closed because their owners retired and no one was interested in pursue them.
So it’s heartening to see two well-known businesses, both deeply rooted in their communities but whose owners are retiring after decades of hard work, have found new owners to step in – and in each case with promises of expansion. , in particular by investing in online sales platforms to remain competitive.
Charlie and Kathy Welch sold Welch’s True Value hardware in South Royalton to Massachusetts-based Aubuchon Hardware, which describes itself as the nation’s oldest family-owned hardware store and, with stores in Windsor and Newport, NH, and formerly Bradford, Vt., is a household name in the upper valley.
Meanwhile, Connecticut businessman Dave Manning acquired Green Mountain Smokehouse in Windsor from Koreen and Jake Henne, saving the business at the last minute as the Hennes had decided after two decades to retire and would have closed the smoking room if a buyer had not come forward. .
Charlie Welch began working in his family’s hardware store in South Royalton while in high school in the early 1960s – joining full-time in 1974 – before eventually taking over the business from his father and uncle and moving it from Chelsea Street to its present Route 14 location in 1988.
He oversaw an expansion of the business which now has around 20 employees and, until its closure in 2018, a second store in West Woodstock on Route 4.
Although he said business has been up and down over the past two years, his reason for selling the business to Aubuchon is strictly personal.
“I am 72 years old; it’s time,” he said last week, crediting his wife, Kathy, with being “an important part of this organization.”
The store was renamed Aubuchon Hardware on March 14, according to Will Aubuchon, general manager of Aubuchon Hardware and the fourth generation of the family to run the business since its inception in 1904.
“We are passionate about carrying the flag forward. What Charlie has built is unique,” Aubuchon said, adding, “Rule #1 is do no harm.
The only changes it plans are expanding the store’s inventory and integrating the South Royalton location into its online retail platform.
“We are committed to the long term,” Aubuchon said.
Welch’s, like others in the construction and tool industry, has suffered from supply chain issues for the past two years. But Aubuchon said his company, which has 107 stores in the North East, has considerable clout in securing product. A few years ago, Aubuchon ended self-distribution and entered into contracts with third-party warehouse distributors which significantly increased the number of products available to it to stock stores.
“The most obvious change will be a lot more inventory. People shouldn’t worry because it’s an Aubuchon store now, what was there before won’t be there now. That’s not the case,” he said.
(Aubuchon said the store will continue to rely on True Value for certain products, although it will no longer be the primary supplier to the South Royalton store.)
He also noted that Charlie Welch was carrying some products that Aubuchon didn’t normally sell, such as “a lot of animal feed,” and that will continue.
“We just want to keep it local, and it’s a total privilege to get Charlie and his family’s flag back,” Aubuchon said.
One day this winter, Manning, the Connecticut businessman and self-proclaimed foodie, left his ski vacation home in Ludlow in search of what he calls “road food,” these places secluded along side and back roads that offer quintessentially American regional cuisine and dishes.
Manning knew exactly where he was going: Green Mountain Smokehouse in Windsor, a small Hennes-run smokehouse operation that sells Vermont smoked meats and maple syrup hams from its location on Route 5 and in a handful of markets around the Upper Valley.
When Manning arrived, he struck up a conversation with the couple, who have run the smokehouse, which also has commercial customers like Robie Farm in Piermont, since 2000.
“I said I had wanted to come here for a year,” recalls Manning, who first discovered Green Mountain Smokehouse on the Roadfood blog.
“Oh, you’re in luck then,” Manning replied, “because we’re pulling out and closing.”
“That’s when I let my mind wander, and here I am,” Manning said last week of Green Mountain Smokehouse, where he worked to learn about operations after buying the business on last month.
Manning, a manufacturer representative and owner of a medical device distribution company, said his intention was to capitalize on Green Mountain Smokehouse’s Vermont roots in marketing. He redesigns the logo, develops a website for online sales and adds three positions to the current five, including a production manager who leaves North Carolina to oversee the operation.
“I can handle the business side, but Jake specifically told me, ‘I don’t want you to buy the business unless you find someone to handle the production side,'” Manning said.
So he “snooped around” and discovered that master smokers are “a niche community, but they will travel.”
“Jake and Koreen left a great foundation and a strong business,” Manning said. “I want to go to the next level. The majority of sales are within a 50 mile radius, but I want to try to take it nationally.
The Hennes declined to comment other than to say that after 22 years they are looking forward to retirement.
Contact John Lippman at [email protected]