More than a hundred years ago the Dennis Company was born. That’s saying something. According to company history, Stewart Lake Dennis (known throughout his adult life as S. L.) joined P. W. Shepard in 1905 to form the Shepard & Dennis Transfer Company in Raymond. In 1919, Dennis assumed sole ownership of what then became S. L. Dennis Transfer Co., which grew and diversified over the five decades, incorporating as the Dennis Sales Company in 1968.
Their staying power is the result of a company’s willingness to change and the Dennis Company is no one trick pony. The company has been a lot of things, always reinventing themselves. What began as a delivery service by wagon—everything from firewood and coal to hay and ice—branched out into moving, trucking, storage, logging, bottling and distributing beverages, automotive repair and more. There were ups and downs along the way, but the Dennis family never gave up—always adjusting and making something new of the business as the times and community needs dictated. Read more about their history here.
Soon the company shifted to become a successful hardware and general merchandise store. Now, with headquarters and the flagship store in Raymond and satellite stores in Montesano, Aberdeen, Elma and Long Beach, the company is one of the largest multi-site retail employers in the area, able to serve the product needs of each community they serve. “With five stores we have the buying power to get just about anything customers want at reasonable prices,” says Brent Dennis, President and CEO.
“Randy and I,” says Brent, speaking of his brother, who is the company’s Vice President, “are fourth generation. We’re running it together on a day to day basis. We each have our own jobs and work well together.” Brent oversees store management, accounting and much of the buying. Randy buys for three departments as well as business clients, takes care of employee training and handles community outreach and advertising. Both, according to Randy, “grew up in the store, doing grunt work” for their father.
Randy says that the company is continually reinventing itself and changing to meet the needs of the communities they serve in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. They no longer just consider other local businesses as competition. He says it’s all about competing with Amazon. They are careful to watch the market and deliver goods that people want, making it instantly available at a reasonable price. That way no one need bother with online sales.
The company’s newest store in Aberdeen came to the city just after the Walmart opened, says Brent. “You can’t compete [directly] with them,” he says. “We really do something different.” And they do that by having several large niche departments—each store carrying different items depending on the wants of the local customers.
“When we see something start to take off,” says Brent, siting things like LED lighting, “we respond.” Their stores carry products like hardware, clothing, gardening supplies, canning supplies, housewares and much more. They watch the calendar and move product in and out with the season so that gardening supplies or clam guns, for example, are available when their customers want them. “It’s always been a story of diversification as the community has changed, to have the foresight to move from one thing to another.”
But changing product and services aren’t the only strategies. “One of the things we’ve changed the most,” says Brent, “is in how we hire[and] how train and promote from within—we develop people.” He says they look for the right attitude and then train their employees to help them become knowledgeable. “When our customers come in it needs to be an experience. It’s about our people and customer service. It’s our people on the sales floor—they have the ability—we empower them.”
Randy says their employees, “talk to people when they come in the door—find out the product they need and help them with the whole thing,” so that they get exactly what they want.
And the company is big on community, too.
“Our focus,” says Randy, “has always been to make the stores part of the community.” Dennis Company has been involved in funding museums, the Raymond swimming pool, parks, academic scholarships and countless other projects over the years. They particularly focus their giving to support youth and currently sponsor seven youth athletic teams.
“Our goal is to help as much as possible,” he adds, “and our money stays in the community.”
“But we don’t just donate money and products,” says Randy. “We help with our time.” The brothers lend their expertise in business to the private sector. They are involved the Chamber and the Economic Development Council, and with advising several non-profits and serving on boards.
“We try to take [our] business perspective to these groups to help them be sustainable,” says Brent.
As for the sustainable future of the Dennis Company, it’s business as usual for the century-old retailer. “Our direction going forward,” say the brothers, “is to continue to change, to stay on top of customer needs, continue to be supportive of the local communities, remain customer focused with service and train our employees with the knowledge they need to satisfy our customers.”
Stop in any of the five Dennis Company locations in Long Beach, Raymond, Aberdeen, Montesano or Elma. Contact information and directions for each store can be found on the Dennis Company website.