By Terri Perrin / Published June 2021
Passion. Accountability. Teamwork. Integrity. Excellence. These are the core values of Abbotsford, BC, Canada-based BE Power Equipment. When Curtis Braber, BE’s CEO and owner, was looking to expand their operations by acquiring a pressure washing industry parts and accessories distributor, he sought a company with similar values.
He found that connection with Gary Barnes, owner of Pennsylvania-based Barens Incorporated. With a solid business history dating back to 1994 (see sidebar on page 19), Barens fit the bill for a new acquisition for BE Power Equipment. Barens is a highly successful distributor with an existing network of both customers and suppliers and, as importantly, many long-term and knowledgeable employees. It was a perfect fit for BE. After months of in-depth conversations and assurances that the change of ownership would not change the corporate culture of Barens, they presented a sales contract.
“The more I got to know Gary, the more I discovered that we shared the same passion and integrity,” says Braber. “For me, this is the most important first step in business acquisitions. Gary was looking for the right fit with a prospective buyer and knew it was important to keep both Barens’ locations where they were. He recognized that his decision ultimately affected his team.”
BE’s offer was not the first one that had been presented, recounts David Hildebrand, general manager of Barens. As the first employee hired by the original three men who founded the company, Hildebrand is well-versed in the Barens’ history.
“Over 26 years, there were several others who attempted to purchase it,” recalls Hildebrand. “All previous negotiations fell through. Gary was 75 years old and still working full-time. We never thought he would retire! The connection with BE started casually. We were at the airport on our way home from a CETA show, and we began chatting with Dave Megathlin, BE Power Equipment’s senior VP of USA sales. He suggested that BE might be interested in working more closely with Barens. A couple of months later, Curtis and Gary started talking. It turned out to be the best situation because BE was familiar with our company. Most importantly, our staff and operations could all remain the same. The goal was to utilize our familiarity in the parts market to be mutually beneficial. That’s what appealed to Gary.”
On October 8, 2019, BE Power Equipment officially announced that they had acquired Barens Inc., a wholesale distributor of pressure washer parts and accessories that sells only to qualified retailers predominantly in the USA, Canada, and Mexico.
A HISTORICAL LOOK AT BARENS INC.
Photo of Barens building in PA.
Why Seneca, AZ? The original company that operated out of the current location was called Seneca Chemical and Supply.
It was owned by Gary Barnes’ relatives, and he inherited the company and the building it operated in. This region of the USA had few warehouse services so Barnes saw an opportunity to change direction from the chemical supply company to a business that would support the pressure washing industry.
Why Barens, not Barnes? Blame it on a possible typo and/or a thick Scottish accent! When Gary Barnes’ grandfather immigrated from Scotland many decades ago, the spelling of his surname was changed. To properly honor his Scottish heritage, Barnes reverted to the original spelling: “Barens.”
- 1994–Established in Seneca, PA, in 1994 by its (then) President Gary Barnes and his partners, Frank Shaderline and Mike Baker. The location was ideal because it is near several interstate highway routes, and there is a UPS terminal right across the street from the building.
- 2005–A second location was opened in California.
- 2008–The California location was closed when their lease was up, and those operations moved to Fort Mohave, AZ, where land was more affordable.
- October 2019–Barens acquired by BE Power Equipment.
In a press release, Braber stated, “Barens has been a leader of the pressure washer parts wholesale business in North America. [With the acquisition,] Barens will continue to supply the same quality aftermarket parts and accessories in a timely manner, shipping from its locations in Seneca, PA, and Fort Mohave, AZ. The Barens’ name and current staff will also remain unchanged. David Hildebrand will remain as general manager for both Barens’ locations. As a result of the strong global influence from BE Power Equipment, along with the proven high-quality service that Barens is best known for, we believe that Barens will continue to be the best pressure washer parts resource in our industry.”
Hildebrand says that the transition to operating under the BE umbrella happened quickly. Barens’ website was updated and the logo redesigned, utilizing BE’s corporate colors and format to show partnership, but at arm’s length. And, as promised, all staff remained. The company roster grew from about 25 to 32.
Employee retention is one of Barens’ strengths. Hildebrand says that they have always paid a decent wage, provided good benefits, and offered a five-day workweek with no weekend work. Supervisors are empowered to run their area of operations. Today, in addition to Hildebrand, three other current employees were there from the start: Ryan Weaver, warehouse operator; Dennis Fry, warehouse manager; and Steve Rowland, assistant manager. Another half dozen people have been with the company for 20-plus years. Succession planning for upcoming retirements is top of mind and will open opportunities for current employees moving into new positions and new hires.
“When purchasing a successful company, I believe that employee retention is vital,” adds Braber. “The week the sale was official, we brought the team together for a town hall meeting to walk them through the history of BE, express thanks, and answer questions.”
With human resources secured, it was time to address technology. In February 2020, three employees from the Abbotsford headquarters went to Seneca for two weeks to switch them over to BE’s computer system that combines inventory management, accounting, integrated sales elements, and business planning/management. The “Dream Team” worked extremely hard to facilitate the change and provide ongoing support. Then, less than a month later, along came COVID-19.
“We were worried that the pandemic would put a damper on the transition in particular and our operations overall,” recalls Hildebrand. “Fortunately, the governor came out with a list of essential businesses, and we were able to continue operations. And health-wise, we are in a geographical area where COVID-19 never really came to us until January 2021.”
With COVID-19-related travel restrictions, however, changeover plans had to change. Training with the BE team moved online.
“It has gone well, considering the state of the world in the past year,” remarks Braber. “Dave Megathlin is based in Florida, so he has been able to travel to provide some support. I can’t wait to be able to get back to face-to-face interactions with all aspects of our group of companies.”
“The next few months will see ongoing computer system and website enhancements and staff training,” explains Megathlin. “The new partnership with BE has opened up new supply chain options, giving them access to more parts manufacturers, expanded product lines, and faster shipping. We feel that we have all the right pieces in place to have continued strong growth in the coming years. We have never had a period in BE’s history with more exponential growth. We attribute this to the purchase of Barens, combined with new products we have introduced.”
“We are so thankful for our customers who have kept us going over the years and their continued support during this transition and the pandemic,” states Hildebrand. “While it is not unique to Barens, the biggest problem we are facing now is supply chain and transportation disruptions as a result of COVID-19. In the early days of the pandemic, China and Europe essentially shut down. Even today, some manufacturers are not running at 100 percent. A short supply of raw materials is a concern as well. That said, 2021 will be a challenging year, but I believe it will be a good one.”
“Over the next five years, I anticipate that we will continue to grow a larger market share within the CETA industries,” assures Megathlin. “We will, very likely, outgrow the building we are currently in because the business keeps coming at us. A move will be in our future. We may buy or build, but rest assured that we will stay in the Seneca and Fort Mohave areas to support the local economies. I also foresee the introduction of more automated systems, with better picking towers and racking systems, as we add new technology and warehouse space to keep up with demand. Our long-term goal is to continue to have a wide range of products from various manufacturers and suppliers so that our customers can be assured one reliable source for parts and supplies.”
“In summary, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to acquire a successful business and to support them with the strong team at BE,” concludes Braber. “I view this as a privilege and an opportunity. Gary trusted me with his legacy, and I will fulfill that commitment.”
Betty Claunch Retires as Barens’ Arizona Manager
Long-time Barens’ Fort Mohave, AZ, warehouse manager, Betty Claunch, retired on March 31st, 2021. The warehouse manager position has been assigned to Brandon Sneedon.
Claunch began her pressure washer career with the wholesale pressure washer company WIP in San Bernardino, CA. In 2005, when WIP merged with Barens, Inc., Betty became warehouse manager. When Barens moved its warehouse from California to Arizona in 2009, she and her entire staff made the move.
Claunch was a dedicated, hard-working, and level-headed asset to the Barens’ team. She could often be found at the warehouse hours before her other team members to ensure that everything was ready for her troops. Coworkers could always count on her to solve any problems that arose with inventory or shipping issues. Always optimistic and in good spirits, she was well known by Barens’ customers in the western part of the country, and her management ability was responsible for the growth of Barens in that part of the country.
The Barens’ team congratulates Claunch on her retirement and wishes her well as she has more time to spend with her husband Emmitt and granddaughter Lainie. She is planning to retire in Texas.