Denise Pallesen (left) and Dawn Torgerson — the once and future Nutter’s owners.

Denise Pallesen (left) and Dawn Torgerson — the once and future Nutter’s owners.

Prominent business changing hands

Dawn Torgerson taking over Nutter’s in downtown Cranbrook from Denise Pallesen

There has been a changing of the guard at Nutter’s Bulk and Natural Foods, but customers may not notice a big difference as the previous and new owners have a similar philosophy to small business.

Denise Pallesen, who has owned and run the franchise in Cranbrook for the past 17 years, sold the store to Dawn Torgerson, who also owns Cranbrook Home Hardware with her husband Martin, on May 1.

“I’m really excited to have Martin and Dawn take over the store, and especially knowing that Dawn is going to take over the store hands-on, because she has the kind of personality that I think will do very well in the store; my staff already really like her and respect her,” said Denise.

“She just has the desire to do really well and she cares about the people who come in. I feel very confident leaving it in her hands, because it’s been my baby for 17 years. So I want to make sure that it continues.”

For her part, Dawn said she respects the values Denise has used to build up the store.

“Denise’s beliefs are very much the same as ours. Community is huge, family is huge, product is huge as far as that you can depend on it,” said Dawn.

“I’m just delighted that I could find someone that has the same mix and who is in it for her employees – that’s really huge to me.”

Nutter’s Bulk and Natural Foods began in Medicine Hat in 1982 and began franchising in 1984. The Cranbrook store opened in 1995, two years before Denise bought it. The previous owner unfortunately went bankrupt and Denise, who has a background in office administration, made a quick decision to shift her career.

After learning the store was due to be liquidated, Denise spoke to the landlord, who gave her a week to get her offer together. She took out a line of credit on her home mortgage, visited Nutter’s head office, and within two weeks, in 1997, she owned the store.

“I went to the bank and they said, ‘Why do you think you can do this?’ I was just fuming mad. I said, ‘Why do you think I can’t? What do you think is wrong with me that I can’t make this work?’”

It took many years of hard work, but she quickly made the store what it is today.

“I didn’t know anything. It was just pure guts,” said Denise. “Had I done a business plan, it would have been a big risk. It took five years before I could take a week off.”

She began thinking in the past few years about retiring, aware that selling a business often takes about two years.

Dawn heard about Denise’s plans, and spoke to her husband about it.

“I happened to mention it to my husband, who is a bit of a character. I said, ‘Denise is looking at maybe retiring, it might be something for us to look into,’” said Dawn. “He took it upon himself to just come right out and ask her.”

After that initial conversation, it took only five months for the sale to be finalized. Now, Denise is handing over the store to Dawn, who plans to manage the business full-time and continue her work with Home Hardware outside those hours.

Denise, who is also a Cranbrook city councillor, will stay on part-time until the end of June, when she will begin to wind down her public life.

“I have a couple of motorcycle trips planned, and spending more time with my kids and grandkids. After that, I don’t know. I don’t want to commit to anything. I’m on council until November and I’m still on the Women’s Enterprise Centre board until September 2015. So I don’t want to take anything on; I just want down time.”

Dawn said that, while she is the one who will be in the store each day, her husband and sons who are involved in Home Hardware will also be involved in Nutter’s, the second family business for the Torgersons.

Through Nutter’s knowledgeable and approachable staff, Dawn hopes to continue the store’s good reputation in the community.

“I don’t think anybody is going to notice any big change, other than that Denise won’t be there and I will. But I think it will be a slow enough transition and the staff will be staying the same, so (customers) will be very confident because the staff is so knowledgeable. And they care. As they are talking to people, they actually find out what they are trying to do and they say, ‘You could try that, but this is going to be better because I know you are dealing with that as well,’” said Dawn.

“It’s just a caring atmosphere,” added Denise, who is pleased that Dawn has the same attitude to business that she does.

“I was worried, ‘How am I going to get out of here without destroying the business or closing it down?’ I just didn’t want to go there. So for me it’s a dream that somebody who cares is coming in.”

Dawn said the community approach to the business is what attracted her to it.

“We’re excited to go forward. We’re excited that it’s Denise and her belief in the community and the people behind her. Martin and I – that’s what we do, that’s our strong thing at Home Hardware and it’s going to come through at this store as well.”