The Eerkes family says they have gotten out of the petroleum and convenience store business for good, selling their 67-year-old retail, dealer wholesale and transportation assets to PacWest Energy, a family-owned company based in Meridian, Idaho.
“We felt we were a small fish in a big pond,” said Chris Eerkes, president of Kennewick’s Sun Pacific Energy, a name the family will retain for its other business ventures around the Tri-Cities. “There is a lot of consolidation in our industry with alternative fuels coming to market. You’re either buying or selling and we didn’t want to sit still.”
The deal includes nine locations, with five of those in the Tri-Cities, including gas stations and convenience stores in Badger Canyon (Kennewick), Burbank, Horn Rapids (Richland), Southridge (Kennewick) and West Richland.
The sale closed last month, and stores have already rebranded to Jacksons, the retail arm of the PacWest brand. PacWest also acquired more than 130 branded dealer accounts for fuel and all rolling stock, which are vehicles used for transportation.
The third generation to have a role in the company, Eerkes said the process took about a year from when it was first floated to the buyer, whom Sun Pacific owner, Craig Eerkes, has known for decades.
Because of the mutual interest from buyer and seller, the Eerkes family didn’t need to shop the business around after approaching PacWest directly.
“We felt their values mirrored us as close as it could,” said Eerkes, who added that his company’s vision has been to operate in a “clean, friendly and honest way.” He felt the Sun Market stores had grown a reputation for this and felt confident PacWest would carry this tradition well after the ownership change.
While both sides declined to share terms of the purchase, records show a typical single store and station infrastructure cost more than $1 million to build, and that doesn’t account for the remaining assets related to branded and unbranded fuels and transportation.
To assist, the Eerkes family retained Corner Capital, a Texas firm, which provided intermediary services focused on valuation, strategic advisory, mergers and acquisitions. Corner Capital said it helped negotiate letters of intent and purchase-and-sale agreements that allowed the transaction to close within 60 days. Legal counsel for the Eerkes family was provided by a California firm.
“We’re excited to be doing business in the Tri-Cities,” said Todd Michael, a senior vice president for Jacksons Food Stores. “We have long operated stores in the Northwest and enjoyed working in and with great communities in Idaho, western Washington and Oregon for years. We’re very familiar with the Tri-Cities, which is a lovely, growing region. We feel like our ‘let’s go’ mantra and community values fit well with residents, and we look forward to serving them.”
This is not the first time the Eerkes family completed a large sale of its properties, having sold 27 convenience stores to Circle K in 2012, with most of those located in the Tri-Cities.
The deal came with a five-year non-compete clause, which prevented Sun Pacific from building any new stores during that window.
Once it expired, the Eerkes family reentered the retail market, rebranding from Sun Mart to Sun Market. Eerkes said this time around, his family has no plans to get back into the fuel, or “c-store” business.
“We’re out. The Circle K transition was unique because they didn’t want any of the wholesale market, only the Eastern Washington retail,” he said.
Because the family held onto so much of the back office business with the Circle K sale, it also retained its accounting, sales and regional staff. The sale to PacWest retained “nearly all” staff, but the company didn’t disclose any specifics on employee numbers or layoffs.
With the exception of Southridge, every location purchased by Jacksons in the Tri-Cities has a Firehouse Subs associated with it. Those franchises, acquired as part of the sale and operations, have also continued.
An independent coffee stand in the parking lot of the Southridge store on West 27th Avenue also will keep operating as before.
Sun Pacific was the first to bring the Firehouse brand to the Tri-Cities in 2017 as part of its retail rebuild. Under the Sun Mart name, many stores had included a Subway franchise and the company wanted something similar for its relaunch.
Chris’ grandfather, Jerry Eerkes, founded Sun Pacific under the name Tri-City Oil Co. in 1956 and sold the company to his son, Craig, in 1981. It was under Craig’s leadership that the family business added convenience stores. Now, Jerry’s grandson, Chris, said the focus will be on its other holdings.
“We’ve retained a lot of real estate and we’re focused on developing flex space, multi-use spaces,” said Eerkes. He’s especially excited about building out a new Golf Universe on Edison Street in Kennewick after leasing the former site on West Clearwater Avenue without the opportunity to buy it.
“Customers are getting savvy about what they want and we have new simulators, including putting sims. Everything is digitized and upgraded,” he said.
The recent acquisitions add to a war chest of stores in nine states owned by PacWest Energy, which includes Jackson Energy and Jacksons Food Stores. This includes over 300 stores branded under Chevron, Shell or Texaco, employing more than 3,500 people.
When asked if it has any other plans for the Tri-Cities, the company said it’s “always looking for new locations where it makes sense to expand, especially in communities where we already do business.” The company said it takes sponsorship requests for the communities it serves.
Eerkes said he is grateful for the decades of support and his family plans to remain active in the community.
In a joint statement released at the time of sale, Chris and his father, Craig, said the recent transaction “represents the culmination of a lifetime of industry operations and investment.”
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