- Former Kerr’s Ace Hardware
In January 2008, the recession hadn’t hit Curry County quite yet. Homes were being built and Gold Beach Lumber was making 40 deliveries a day — with 80% of them to Brookings, 27 miles south.
Ryan Ringer was partners with his father Reed. Not yet 30, he wanted to grow the business from the single store in Gold Beach founded by his great-grandparents. And when he saw the former Ford dealership in Harbor suddenly vacant, it seemed the perfect opportunity to expand.
His father didn’t see it that way, Ryan Ringer said, but he agreed that his son could buy him out of the business. So, still a newlywed — Ryan and his wife Jocelyn were married in 2007 — Ringer took over the business and opened Gold Beach Lumber in Harbor in June 2008.
Soon thereafter, though, the recession did hit Curry County. As Ringer recalls, his business dropped off by 60% in the 10 days immediately following the Nov. 4, 2008, presidential election. There were two full years to follow, he said, when not a single building permit was issued in Curry County.
He credits creative ideas from his staff — and concessions they agreed to make — to allowing the company to stay afloat. And having the store in Harbor also allowed the company to capture more of the south county market. People weren’t building homes, but they were still painting, landscaping and doing other projects. Customers from Brookings and Harbor would not have gone to Gold Beach for those items, he said, but many did support the store in Harbor.
“We would have lost more employees if we didn’t have the second store,” he said.
After surviving that recession, Ringer was ready for more expansion. In 2013 he opened Gold Beach Lumber in Port Orford. Around that time he approached the Kerr family of Brookings with hopes to purchase Kerr’s Ace Hardware in the middle of town — but they weren’t interested at the time. So Ringer looked inland, acquiring Cascade Home Improvement stores in Cottage Grove and Creswell in 2016 and Van Well Building Supply in Dallas in 2018. All three of the Oregon stores had family ownerships looking to retire, he said.
And by early 2020, Tom and Steve Kerr decided they were ready to retire, as well, and no family members were interested in taking over the business their father Bob established in 1952. Plans were made for the business to change hands in April — and then along came the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ringer said the pandemic delayed the transaction in part because of travel restrictions. The Kerrs have been part of the Ace hardware coop, but Ringer’s company is tied with the Do-It-Best coop based in Indiana. Having already completed transitions at other stores, he knew he would need consultants on site locally to assist.
Eventually the transaction could be completed and the Kerrs wrapped up their final day of business on Thursday, Aug. 20, with Ringer reopening the store last week as Cascade Home Center.
But if you visit the store soon, you might not notice much change. Most of the Kerr staff remained, although the logos on their shirts now say “Cascade Home Center.” You might see some Gold Beach Lumber staff helping out. And the Ace branding and merchandise has not yet been replaced.
Acquiring new signage and product are among the other COVID-19 related challenges. Ringer said he doesn’t know for sure when new signage will arrive. But he does have a merchandise plan and eventually every area of the store will get a facelift.
With Gold Beach Lumber in Harbor and Cascade Home Center in Brookings, Ringer said he plans to develop the two stores to meet different segments of the market.
In a community the size of Brookings-Harbor, he said, there’s room for both a “home center” like the former Kerr’s store and a “pro center.” Although both will sell lumber, Cascade Home Center will focus on smaller cuts such as might be used in home improvement projects and Gold Beach Lumber will focus on serving professional contractors.
And although COVID-19 continues to be a challenge for all aspects of the business, Ringer remains optimistic. There is still a need for new housing to be built, he said, and that’s good news for people in the lumber business.
The Ringer family got its start in the lumber business in Curry County when Ryan’s great-grandparents, Clarence and Pearl, moved from the Willamette Valley to Gold Beach in 1959 and started Gold Beach Lumber.
In early 1973 their son Rod — Ryan’s grandfather — moved to the area to help them when they were both suffering from cancer. And in 1981, when Ryan was about two years old, his parents Reed and Elnora came into the company which Ryan took over entirely in 2008.
But, he is quick to point out, Gold Beach Lumber is not a “one man band.”
He credits his team for the company’s success, including John Schwels who he said was his father’s first hire in 1981.
“He celebrated his 39th anniversary with us yesterday,” Ringer said in an interview Tuesday.
Among key staff are Todd Rigby who is the company’s Southern Stores Regional Manager and will be the Acting Store Manager at the former Kerr’s store for the first couple of years, Ringer said.
He noted that another staff member, Dean Kruschke, has been instrumental in establishing hiring and training processes that are consistent throughout all of the stores.
Ringer spoke well of his Gold Beach Lumber staff, as well as those from Kerr’s who just joined his company.
“We’ve acquired some true professionals,” he said. “I’m really excited by the team. They had some great people.”