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  Comments (1) Total Thursday Apr. 17, 2014
Evergreen Vann’s Hanging On
Local employees awaiting resolution in bankruptcy case
The Vann’s store on U.S. Highway 2 in Evergreen. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
“We’re still standing,” says Heath Childree, the location manager at the Vann’s in Evergreen.

In the last two months Childree and the 15 employees at the electronics and appliance retailer on U.S. Highway 2 East have suffered a barrage of hits.

Vann’s, Inc., based in Missoula with roughly 150 employees working at five stores across the state, filed for bankruptcy in August, a year after celebrating its 50th anniversary. After that the company, at one time the largest independent retailer in the state, announced late last month it would shutter its stores and liquidate its assets, valued at $17.6 million, to pay off creditors.

The workers, a majority who have individually invested in the company, received welcome news last week. Jerry McConnell, the company’s CEO, appeared in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Missoula and said that a potential buyer from Bozeman had expressed serious interest in purchasing Vann’s, Inc. Judge John L. Peterson allowed the company to remain in Chapter 11 bankruptcy for a month while negotiations continue with the potential buyer.

Childree called the decision “very positive encouragement” for a group of employees deeply tied and devoted to Vann’s and the local community.

“These next 30 days we will continue to do everything we can to give the best possible service to everyone and move forward with a positive attitude,” he said.

More than half of the Evergreen staff is invested in the company, which is employee owned. The average Evergreen employee has worked at Vann’s for almost eight years.

Childree, who took over as manager two months ago, said the staff has weathered the storm with grace.

“Their integrity is what has pulled them through and it’s what will continue to keep pulling them through,” he said.

Pete Vann purchased an appliance store in Missoula in 1961 and turned it into Vann’s, starting with three employees. Over the following decades new stores opened in Hamilton, Bozeman, Billings and Evergreen, which opened in 1997.

The company evolved with new technology, developing an online Vann’s website and eventually a separate outdoor clothing site, BigSkyCountry.com. In 2009, Consumer Reports named Vann’s.com the No. 1 electronics site in the nation based on an independent survey.

However, the company has been in decline in recent years, partially due to the recession but also because of apparent questionable decisions made by management.

Bankruptcy documents listed a property estimated to be worth $275,000 at a prestigious vacation community called Rock Creek Cattle Company near Deer Lodge. When asked about the property by the Missoula Independent, McConnell said:

“It was a stupid move on the part of management that went out there and built a house and bought two lots. It’s about a half a dozen of those kinds of decisions that really, combined with a bad economy, got us into the hole that we’re in right now.”

McConnell became CEO in June and replaced George Manlove. During his tenure Manlove purchased another property through Vann’s Homes, LLC, and hoped to begin developing luxury homes, albeit unsuccessfully, McConnell told the Independent.

If Vann’s is able to successfully find a buyer this month, the retail stores could remain open and about 100 employees could still have their jobs, McConnell told the Missoulian.

In the meantime the “Vann’s family” in Evergreen will continue doing business as usual, according to Childree.

“These are amazing husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and families that are tied to the community and want to be successful,” Childree said. “They’re working diligently to continue that success. We want to be here another 50 years.”
On 10-10-12, Tox commented....
I bought my last appliance there some months ago, and I intend to buy my next one there too. I wish the entire Vann’s Family The best of Luck!
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