NEWS- Cooking with gas: Ron Martin gets new owner

There are big changes afoot at Ron Martin Appliance after the business recently switched hands. But there's one thing that won't change: the name.

"It's been around since 1973," says new Ron Martin owner David McKenney, who purchased the business from the founder's son, Logan Martin, in August. "It may have disappeared for a little while," McKenney says, referring to recent business difficulties, "but it's synonymous with a good place to go. Ron Martin, when he was alive, took care of everyone."

McKenney is no stranger to the appliance biz. He worked for four years as a sales rep for Frigidaire, with Ron Martin as one of his clients. Nearly two years ago, the Short Pump resident decided he wanted to travel less and spend more time with his wife– who will help run the business– and with his two children, ages 8 and 10. When he considered his "core competencies," he decided operating an appliance store would be the right fit. 

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, Ron Martin's eponymous founder had passed away in March 2002, and his son, Logan, had taken over the company– something he now says wasn't a good fit.

"My major was environmental science, not business," says Logan Martin. "I wanted to get away from retail, wanted to do something a little less stressful." 

Indeed, Logan Martin did have some problems during his tenure as owner. In 2004, after a potential sale to a competitor fell through, Martin was forced to give up his ground floor showroom and move Ron Martin to a second story space above Bassett Furniture, leasing the other spaces in the buildings he owned at the corner of Seminole Trail and Woodbrook Road. And the store was the subject of a September 2005 Fearless Consumer column, when a customer reported the company had taken four months to provide burners for a new $4,500 Wolf range.

"Running a business and working for a business are two different things," says Martin, who admits that when McKenney made an offer, it was "pretty tempting." After hammering out details, a deal was sealed, and McKenney took over.

While the business' name is a bonus, McKenney says the sales team's extensive appliance experience is also invaluable. He's kept the same staff and boasts that three senior staffers have 75 years combined appliance experience. One of those staffers says he has high hopes for McKenney's leadership.

"The new owners are quite the business people," says sales rep Fred Childress. "They concentrate on the business and on keeping the name of Ron Martin good."

Customers say they're also pleased with the service McKenney and his staff are providing at Ron Martin.

"Competitive pricing is a part of our decision process,"says Henry Smith, president of Central Virginia Builders. But, Smith adds, "Good long-term relationships are probably the most important factor."

Logan Martin says there's a silver lining to the business difficulties he faced, particularly in the juggling of the new and old Ron Martin spaces.

"Through that experience, I've decided to go ahead and get my real estate license," says Martin, a father of three, who plans to focus on commercial real estate. "It means I can go to all the girls' events and not miss out on family time."

Martin says he remains available to help McKenney, who's currently hard at work on a new state-of-the-art showroom and also plans to reopen the Harrisonburg Ron Martin store as a "scratch and dent" showroom.

But while state-of-the-art showrooms may attract shoppers, Childress believes the McKenneys' longterm business plan is foolproof.

"They plan on rebuilding it by being honest, trustworthy, and part of the community," he says.

New owner takes over Ron Martin