By Tim Ellis, KUAC - Fairbanks - March 29, 2022
Three Bears Alaska says the state will soon be seeing more of its stores after a recapitalization deal with Seattle-based Westward Partners.
The company owns and operates nine retail outlets around Alaska and one in Montana. They’re mostly grocery stores, and some have gas stations or hardware or sporting-goods shops. The stores are in small-to-midsized communities, and sometimes they’re the only grocer in town.
“Folks should certainly expect to see more Three Bears stores going up around the state of Alaska in the next one, two, three years,” said James Cartales, the managing director of Cascadia Capital, a Seattle-based firm that advised Three Bears on the deal with Westward Partners.
Cascadia Capital announced the deal on March 17. But Cartales and a Three Bears spokesperson both declined to say where the new stores may be built.
“When you’re working on real estate deals and things like that, you don’t want to give away all your plans,” Cartales said in an interview last week.
Cartales and the company spokesperson both said in interviews last week that they couldn’t offer many details of the deal, for proprietary reasons. That’s not unusual, says John Nofsinger, dean of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s College of Business and Public Policy.
“In this particular case,” he said, “we don’t have a lot of information because this is a private-equity firm, and they’re helping to recapitalize Three Bears Alaska, which is also a private company. So they’re not required to tell us much of anything.”
But Nofsinger offered a few observations on the deal in an interview Friday, beginning with a definition of a recapitalization.
“A recapitalization is simply a major, substantial change in a company’s capital structure,” he said. “There are different forms of capital. There’s the equity side, for a public company that would be like buying their stock. And then there’s debt.”
Cartales says the deal didn’t involve Westward Partners buying Three Bears’ debt. And the company spokesperson confirmed that the Weisz family, which launched the business in 1980, still retains majority ownership.
“There’s a diversified shareholder base of Alaskans, and they’ll maintain Alaska control over an Alaskan company,” he said.
Cartales says that means customers probably won’t notice much change in the operation of Three Bears stores. But he says they may see improvements as the company continues to remodel its existing stores, like it did two years ago in Tok. That’s where Three Bears was founded in 1980, and where it built a hardware store in October. And in 2017, it opened its 10th store in Healy.
“As far as this transaction’s impact on them, it’s going to be business as usual,” he said. “There’s no change at the management level, there’s certainly no change at the store level.”
Cartales says customers shouldn’t worry about Three Bears raising prices as a result of the recapitalization. Nofsinger says that sometimes happens when a private-equity firm invests in a company. But Cartales says greater economies of scale may even drive prices down.
“As the business grows, they’re often able to get better pricing from the national brands and the distributors and supplier,” he said.
Cartales says some prices may rise because of inflation, and gasoline and other fuels may go up because of volatility in energy-markets.