News of Davenport sale met with hope

Dec. 12, 2012 @ 05:00 AM

With the announcement that J.T. Davenport & Sons is being sold, after 95 years in business as a family company spanning four generations, some local leaders reacted with optimism Tuesday for the firm's future.

The wholesale distribution company, which focuses its services on convenience stores and has been based in Sanford for most of its history, should close on a deal by Monday, Dec. 17, with San Francisco-based Core-Mark Holding Company for about $45 million, said President Mark Davenport on Tuesday.

Davenport said he sees no reason why the sale wouldn't be completed. Core-Mark officials toured the premises Tuesday, less than a day after the tentative deal was announced.

Davenport has worked at the company for 31 years, including about 15 as president, and he said seeing the business barely miss out on its 100th anniversary and a fifth generation of family control did sting his pride. However, he said, the deal made so much business sense that his decision was fairly easy.

"I stood in front of every single employee and was able to tell them there's not one single bad thing in this," he said.

Davenport, whose great-grandfather founded the company in the late 1800s in Morehead City and then moved it to Sanford in the early 1900s, said the deal is a win-win for the two companies, with Core-Mark gaining access to the eight Southern and Midwestern states Davenport serves, and with Davenport gaining more financial security and access to technological innovation from the larger company.

J.T. Davenport & Sons will keep its name, location and general leadership structure under the terms of the sale, which Davenport leadership said should equate to job security for the company's 340 employees — not to mention the extra people who will probably be employed there in the future.

With plans to add hundreds of customers and increase shipping volume by about 20 percent by just next year, he said, the company will almost certainly be hiring in the coming months. That was welcome news to local leaders, who are all too aware of the consistently high unemployment rate in Lee County.

"I'm really glad to hear that Core-Mark sees Davenport as an integral part of their business plan," Bob Joyce, the president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday. "... This family has been so generous to our community, not just in providing jobs but in community service, especially with the Boys and Girls Club."

The company's lobby boasts a trophy case full of plaques and other awards and recognitions from companies they have worked with, professional organizations and athletic leagues. Having just as prominent a place are mementos from local groups like the YMCA and the Sanford/Lee County Boys & Girls Club.

And Joyce said although the company will now be a subsidiary of a larger distributor, he doesn't think history shows that Lee County residents have much to worry about.

"Over the years, we've seen homegrown companies that have done very well and have grown to be large businesses in the national business scene," Joyce said. "We've seen those companies sell to larger entities, and our community has seen great benefit from that."

Charlie Parks, the chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, said he didn't want to speculate about a company's specific business plans but did commend J.T. Davenport & Sons for a long history in the community, saying he's looking forward to having them stick around.

"We just want to partner with them to stay a valuable asset to our community," he said Tuesday.

Core-Mark stock, which had been rising slowly but steadily throughout December, jumped sharply Monday when the sale was announced and continued to go up Tuesday, increasing more than 3 percent from mid-afternoon Monday until closing on Tuesday, when it was $48.48 per share.