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John Reny relates Reny history to Bristol Lions 02/21/2010

Posted by DS in meetings, speakers.
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On Feb. 15 the Bristol Lions welcomed John Reny, President of R.H. Reny Inc. He is a true Mainer born at Miles Hospital like his mother and grandmother, an indication of the deep roots he has in the community. Reny went to Lincoln Academy and majored in sociology at the University of Maine in Orono.

He and his brother Bob are carrying on the tradition of their father, Robert H. Reny.

R.H. Reny went to work for R.H. White in Boston, later he moved to back to Maine and started work in Damariscotta in 1948 at Senter’s Department store. The Senters provided him with meals and rented space to him in their home. After a year he requested a raise, received it had his rent raised. R.H. then quit, obtained a $5,000 G.I. loan and opened a store across the street in October 1949.

He discovered what a dire time it was for retailing in the winter. He had one employee, a woman. He loaded up his old Hudson and drove down the peninsulas selling door-to-door.

He didn’t sell much, drank a lot of coffee and supplied the folks with the news from S’cotti. Next spring the fishermen remembered his visits and came up to his store.

His second store was in Bridgeton which at that time was three hours away. He would close the Damariscotta store and drive three hours to open the store in Bridgeton. At the end of the day, he would drive home. He also drove to New York City to buy his goods, and then back in a day.

Most of the current Reny’s stores were bought, because in those days a store could be bought for $10,000. Although many are located downtown, some are also in shopping centers like the Renys in Camden.

When it came time expand into Belfast, John Reny was sent by his father to negotiate a lease for space for $1 a foot. The landlord was appalled at the offer and told him to go back to his father for another offer. He came back with an offer of ninety cents and told the landlord, “You had better take it- the next offer won’t be any better.”

When Cabbage Patch Dolls came out, Coleco sent them 12 dolls for Christmas. They raised the question of “What do you do with 12 dolls?

Renys gave them away by running a raffle in each of their 12 stores and it was wall-to-wall people.” The following year Coleco sent 24 before Christmas. They purchased 3000 Cabbage Patch Dolls made in South Africa with strange names and sold them for $19.99 each.

When Walmart came into Maine it was just like Renys. The company quickly figured out that you can’t out cheap, cheap.

Renys brought in quality goods like Carhartt, Columbia and Woolwich and went for value. Walmart was strong in hard goods, but not in soft goods. The first year versus Walmart sales were flat, the next year they increased by 3 percent.

Last year sales were up 5 percent. Renys now has between 400 and 500 employees in 15 locations. They enjoy the best credit rating from Dun & Bradstreet and don’t borrow money.

In 60 years the company has made a lot of friends and their vendors know they will be paid promptly. They get the first choice on small lots, but also are offered part of larger 10 trailer load lots before they go to larger retailers.

When the new warehouse was being built in Newcastle, Renys considered moving the two Damariscotta stores into the old warehouse building on Chapman Street. It was more spacious and had plenty of space for parking. They decided against it knowing that it would be the death of downtown Damariscotta.

Renys is the longest surviving family-owned business in Maine. John and Bob run the business now, and John’s daughter Faustine, who majored in business in college, has joined the family business. Generally, the odds of success of a second generation running a family business is only 30 percent and the third generation‘s success rate is only 15 percent. Renys is continuing to beat those odds!

The next dinner meeting of the Bristol Area Lions will be on Mon., March 1 at 6 p.m… It will be the annual “Speak-Out” speech competition, when the Lions hear from local Lincoln Academy students on a subject of their choosing. The winner moves to the next level of competition.


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