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Three Sons acquires Tri-County Lumber, with eye to expand

With a background of nearly 30 years in the trucking industry and another 10-plus in hardware stores, Dave Ables and his family have committed to preserving the legacy of locally owned hardware and lumber stores.

On 2013, the family opened their first store, Three Sons True Value in Ohio. The company was named for Ables three sons, David, Sam and Nicholas. After selling the store to Busy Beaver in 2019, Ables bought a Hardware Hank location in Big Lake, MN, and converted it to become the new location of Three Sons Hardware in 2022, once again in partnership with True Value.

Ables’ wife, Lori, who managed the first store for many years, still runs that store today.

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“My wife works at that store in Big Lake six days a week, every week of the year,” Ables said. “We’re tied into our businesses. There’s almost never been an opportunity for a customer or client to come in and not see one of the family members involved or at least readily available if we weren’t there.”

In late 2023, the company was looking to expand, and came across an opportunity to acquire a family-owned business looking to sell: Tri-County Lumber in Clearwater, MN.

“It was a father and son, they had got to the point where the father was ready to move on and retire,” Ables said. “On the lumber side, it was a thriving company doing very well, and obviously they could have marketed it to anyone. But they didn’t want to sell the private equity. They didn’t want to sell to a big conglomerate. They wanted to sell it to someone like my wife and I who were much like their father and son model. We’re just a family run business.”

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With the acquisition completed, Ables said he wanted to expand the store’s customer base, which historically had focused more on creating a strong contractor base, to bringing in more retail business.

“We have great people here and we really just had to put some processes around things. With my background in transportation as an executive and running companies, we’re going to streamline the way we do things so that it’s better for our end customer. On the Tri-County side, the beauty is it was a very strong company had a very strong contractor base. But what we can do here is that we can bring in some of that retail flair that they hadn’t had before because they really exclusively dealt with contractors.”

Ables said his hope over the next few years is to expand the space to include both hardware and building materials to better cater to consumer needs. This, he said, will allow the business to better compete with online shopping as well as the shopping habits of younger generations.

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“We’ve tailored the design of the interior the store, so it’s very clean, very vibrant,” Ables said. “The first thing we do is, when we make the deal, we come in and we got the store bringing all new product lines and then cleaning it all up and make it friendly for people to be able to come in. Even the millennials and the younger people today, they really feel more comfortable in a nice well-lit store that’s got good displays, color palettes, etc.”

Additionally, Ables said this most recent acquisition likely won’t be his last. He said he hopes to be able to work with other family owned businesses that might not have succession planning in place to keep them from having to sell to a large conglomerate, or worse, shutter business altogether.

“A lot of the communities that we’re going to target, they’re not ever going to have a Lowe’s or Home Depot. They’re a small community, but at the same time, they’d love to have some of the conveniences of those big box stores,” he said. “So we’ll to look for stores that are have ownership that’s ready to retire, or to find struggling stores that maybe aren’t capitalized enough to have good inventory. We’ll come in, we brand that as Three sons Hardware and we partner with True Value. We’ll bring in new merchandise and we revitalize the community.”

Ables said companies that might be interested in discussing possible acquisitions can reach him at Dave@3sonsinvestments.com.

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