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Hays Ace store included in $88M sale

By KEN STEPHENS

Special to The Hays Daily News

HUTCHINSON -- Hutchinson's two Westlake Ace Hardware stores, along with 83 other Westlake stores in seven states including one in Hays, have been purchased by Ace Hardware Corp. in a transaction valued at $88 million.

However, customers won't notice any difference, largely because the stores already were members of the Ace Hardware buying group.

"The name over the door is going to remain Westlake Ace Hardware," said Westlake Chief Executive Officer George Smith.

The product line, store managers and employees will remain the same, as will Westlake's management at the company's headquarters in Lenexa.

Westlake will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ace Hardware but will continue to report to a separate board of directors.

A private equity firm, Goldner Hawn Johnson and Morrison, had owned the stores since 2006. The sale to Ace Hardware was completed last week.

"In the natural course of business, (private equity) firms buy and sell companies," Smith said. "They decided it was time to look at selling and around mid-July started to market the company."

As a co-op, Ace did not own any of the stores bearing the Ace name before this transaction. Instead, the owners of the stores owned a piece of Ace.

For Ace, Smith said, the decision to buy Westlake was good from an offensive and defensive point of view. Offensively, he said, it gives Ace a retail arm and a growth platform for expanding the number of stores, which already number approximately 4,200 across the country. Defensively, he said, Ace did not want to see the Westlake stores bought by a rival hardware company.

"If anything, it gives (Westlake) more long-term stability," said Smith, who has been with the company for 35 years.

Westlake was founded in 1905 in Huntsville, Mo., when W.I. Westlake bought part ownership in a hardware store there. Westlake became sole owner of the store three years later. His company opened new stores elsewhere in Missouri and joined the Ace Hardware distribution network in 1959.

As Westlake opened more stores in Kansas and other states, it became the largest Ace dealer in America.

There are 22 Westlake Hardware stores in Kansas and 63 more in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

Ace Hardware, founded in Chicago in 1924, has been a co-op owned by individual store owners since 1976. The Westlake stores will be the first stores wholly owned by Ace.