Spokane Valley-based Walker's Furniture Inc. has agreed to take over five stores in northeast Oregon by August, following the retirement of principals who own and plan to close their Hermiston, Ore.-based family business, called Wilcox Furniture Inc.
Walker's, which has seven stores in Washington and North Idaho, plans to assume the Wilcox store leases in Umatilla County near the Washington-Oregon border and open the stores by September as Walker's outlets, says Walker's co-owner Mark Walker.
The expansion will allow Walker's to grow to a total of 12 storesand into a market that's close to outlets it operates in Kennewick and Walla Walla. Currently, Walker's operates a 90,000-square-foot distribution center in Spokane Valley, two stores in the Spokane area, and one store each in Coeur d'Alene, Kennewick, Yakima, Walla Walla, and Wenatchee.
Wilcox Furniture, which has operated since the 1950s, has two stores in Hermiston, two in Milton-Freewater, Ore., and one in Pendleton, Ore. Wilcox plans to hold a three-month retirement sale to clear out its inventory before Walker's takes over the leases, Walker says.
"They're going to become Walker's stores, and we'll hire as many of their employees as we can," Walker says. He adds that Wilcox has a total of 43 employees, and he describes the owners as three brothers whose dad started the business. "They've been in business for 50 years and have a great reputation in that market and have a great group of employees. They were just ready to retire."
"What they wanted was for us to take over their leases," Walker says. "They found us. They wanted to find a dependable, strong company that could take over their business and continue being successful."
Walker's, which has been in business since 1980, has 113 employees companywide. More than half of those workers are based in Spokane, Walker says.
"The biggest thing that's attractive (about Wilcox) is all these locations are close to Kennewick," Walker says. "I already buy a lot of advertising in Kennewick, and that all goes down to that market, so all these markets know about us and have heard about Walker's for years, and Milton-Freewater is right next to Walla Walla."
Walker says the agreement isn't a business acquisition because the brothersJohn Wilcox, Bruce Wilcox, and Alan Wilcoxplan to close their business toward the end of the summer. He says Wilcox owns its buildings in Hermiston, which Walker's plans to rent from the family, and then Walker's plans to take over the leases of the other Wilcox buildings. He says they are still negotiating on one of the locations, but they have secured the others.
"We're going to buy some tangibles, but we're not buying their business," Walker says. "It works for them, and it works for us. Our goal is to open in September, and we'll have access to the buildings in August."
The buildings have a total of 100,000 square feet of floor space.
For the northeast Oregon market, Walker's plans to carry the lines of furniture that Wilcox has stocked, as well as those that Walker's offers.
"In their stores, they cater to special orders, a line that people can order a sofa from and look at a bunch of different fabrics, then they special-order that couch," Walker says. "We'll get a lot of the same lines they carry, but we'll blend in Walker's lines of furniture. We carry a lot of quality import furniture at a great value, so the combination will give customers a great choice."
Overall, Walker says, the furniture store business seems to be improving after a longtime lull during the housing market downturn of the past few years.
"It's been coming back, finally," he says. "Our sales aren't going down any more. Last year, we saw an increase and already we've seen an increase in the first quarter."
Walker declines to disclose how much sales increased in the past year compared with 2010.
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