Len Menary was a simple farm boy from Markdale, used to working 12-hour days for a paltry few cents. When he headed to Toronto as a young man, it was with $10 jangling in his pocket and a multitude of dreams. The founder and president of the Len's Mill Store chain died Sunday at 84 of age-related illness.
His son, Bruce Menary, said his father worked to the very end of his life. "He was so well respected in the trade", said Bruce, who now takes over the president's role, running nine stores in southwestern Ontario, including one in Cambridge and one Waterloo. Many have giggled at Len's Mill Store's catchy jingles and its goofy ads centred around a pink flamingo. That was part of the Mississauga man's charm. "He was an honourable gentleman", said Bruce, who recalls his father putting him to work at age six folding towels. From his father, Bruce learned a strong work ethic and the importance of your word being your bond. "He used to put together $100,000 deals with just a handshake", Bruce said.
Len served in the air force during the Second World War. Bruce, the only one of Menary's two sons involved in the business, said his father's first job after the war was sales. In one company, he made more money on commission than the president earned in salary and was summarily fired. His next move was to join up with five partners who bought into Norfolk Knitting, manufacturers of children's wear and blankets based in Port Dover. In 1954, he opened a small factory outlet on-site.
By 1970, Len had bought out his partners and ran the factory for a couple of years along with the outlet store. When union troubles erupted and there didn't seem to be a solution, Len shut Norfolk down, then wondered what the heck he was going to do with all that factory space. Being the entrepreneurial sort, he decided to expand the outlet store, sourcing liquidation merchandise and manufacturers' overruns, anything he could purchase in bulk and sell to his customers at a discount.
Len's Mill Store was born and proved his ticket to success, but Bruce said his father never lost that simple, farm-boy mentality. He was all about hard work and strong business ethics. Len never drove a Cadillac, never yearned for the fancy house or any other outward displays of wealth, although he was generous to community charities and was a longtime Shriner, supporting the burn hospitals. Len was a man who loved people, who cared for his staff and enjoyed the camaraderie of his many longtime business associates.
"If I could get half the respect in the trade that he did, I'd be a very happy man", Bruce said. Len Menary 1923 ~ 2007