ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The downtown business community in Hillsboro suffered a setback with the word Monday that owners Kevin and Dooz Pankratz will be consolidating their Sunflower Office Products and Kitchen Corner businesses in Newton later this year.
The Pankratzes expect the consolidation to be completed in late June or early July.
Long-time customers of Sunflower Office Products were told of the decision Monday afternoon, and a letter was mailed to postal customers in Hillsboro for delivery on Tuesday.
The Pankratzes said the decision was made after a long process of studying changing demographics, buying habits and communication tools in the market they serve.
“In the context of our entire operation, the Hillsboro retail locations, long-term, did not represent the return on investment that we felt was a sound way to continue to do business,” Kevin Pankratz said.
“It doesn’t mean there was any imminent danger or any pressure by external forces,” he added. “After looking at the markets we serve, the return on investment that we were receiving, and how particular markets relate to our marketing plan, this seemed like the prudent thing to do.”
Sunflower Office Products was founded in January 1982. The business later added the Hallmark cards and Xerox office equipment lines. The Pankratzes opened a branch location in Newton in 1993 and a sales office in McPherson in 1999.
They opened Kitchen Corner in 1995 on the corner of Main and Grand, then moved the business to a storefront adjacent to Sunflower Office Products in 1998.
“When you look at it as a business decision, there’s no question that it’s right,” Dooz Pankratz said. “We had to take our emotions and throw them in the closet, and then we made the decision. We knew five years from now we would be saying, ‘Why didn’t we have the guts to do what we needed to do back then?'”
The Pankratzes said they have been evaluating the future of their Hillsboro business for the past two years. They decided about two weeks ago that the time was right to make the move.
“We felt we would be revisiting it every couple of years, and we felt there would come a point when it would be inevitable to do it,” Kevin Pankratz said.
The businesses employ three full-time workers and two part-time workers. Some of the employees have been offered positions in Newton.
Mayor Delores Dalke said the two businesses were strong additions to Hillsboro’s Main Street.
“I know Kitchen Corner has been a great drawing card for Hillsboro,” Dalke said. “I see the large numbers of people I don’t recognize who go to shop in that store. So I know it has an appeal over a wide area. I’ve gotten many compliments about what a wonderful store it is.
“The office supplies and Hallmark cards have been such a wonderful store for Hillsboro because everything we need has been readily available. We will really miss them.”
The Pankratzes said they plan to provide local customers with high-quality, personal service from Newton.
They said the bridal registry customers they have signed through Kitchen Corner will be served without interruption.
“We’re very thankful and grateful to the customers of Hillsboro and we look forward to continuing to serve them,” Kevin Pankratz said. “This is by no means an escape or a retreat from the importance that they represent to our business. It’s not being done with any feeling of ill will. It’s just a positive thing in the life of our business.”
The Pankratzes said neither store was in financial difficulty, but they felt they had to make decisions based on their business goals.
“We’d much rather close the store when it’s going strong as opposed to letting things deteriorate and dwindle down,” Kevin Pankratz said.
He added that their decision was based on the business model they followed, and did not reflect their conclusions about the Hillsboro community in general.
“This doesn’t mean that we feel there’s not a place for businesses in Hillsboro or that it’s over,” he said. “But with the model we are operating under, it doesn’t provide the kind of return on investment that our model requires-and that can be sustained over the long term.”
Dalke said the loss of the two businesses will be keenly felt, but she also saw a silver lining.
“We have had contact with people who have expressed an interest in coming to Hillsboro, but we haven’t had space for them in the downtown business district,” Dalke said. “We are hopeful that this will give some contacts an opportunity to come to our community and that we can fill that space in the near future.”
The Pankratzes said they have not made a decision about their future residence.
“We honestly don’t know what we’re going to do,” Dooz Pankratz said. “That decision was going to be totally separate from this one.”
Added Kevin Pankratz: “To get the most leverage out of a consolidation, at some point a personal move would make sense. What time frame that will be, it remains to be seen.”