West Michigan & The Hardware Store – Take a Walk Down the Aisle

Hardware StoreMaybe you only visit your small local one, or perhaps you prefer the big box one, whichever type of hardware store you choose you’d be able to find an interesting array of West Michigan made products. With West Michigan’s manufacturing footprint, it is only logical that there are many local businesses that are filling the shelves at hardware stores. So lets take a nice virtual trip through a hardware store and see what we can find.

Usually the most brightly lit part of the store is the paint section. Although this company isn’t actually selling consumers anything, they have quite the presence at the paint counter. X-Rite is a company that produces color measurement equipment and software. They manufacture paint matching equipment called spectrophotometers (spectro), allowing hardware stores and paint stores to match the color of anything a consumer brings in, giving you a can of paint in the exact same color of your sample. So next time you are at a paint counter take a look around and see if you can spot the spectro.

Now, the one thing that you always need MITmore of and never have enough of are tools. Hardware stores are the perfect spot to add to your collection or get that one tool you just need to finish your project. Luckily Michigan Industrial Tools based in Grand Rapids produces over 2,000 different types of tools under 3 sub brands  – Tekton, Maxcraft, and Workshop. I will also have to say that I am quite the fan of their logo with how they still worked in an “I” and a “T” in the “M”, very subtle but well done.

Another company with a lot of sub-brands is National Nail Corporation in Wyoming. Although they do offer numerous nails, the company is really staking themselves on the following two sub-brands – CAMO Fasteners and Stinger Cap Systems. The CAMO Fasteners system is a way to screw down lumber decking without having the screws showing, a hidden screw system (the video showcases it quite nicely.) Stinger Caps is a new way of attaching insulation wrap on new construction which seems a lot easier than a nail hammer.

Since we just got done talking about decks and hidden fastening systems, we might as well go to the lumber yard. Universal Forest Products based in Grand Rapids, produces lumber for decking, and almost every other use, in additUniversal-Forest-Products-Inc.ion to a wide range of other wood based products. If you have any more questions you might as well spend some time playing around in their little city program here.

hexarmor-logoPerhaps these two should go hand in hand. We have Grand Rapids based Hexarmor who produces gloves, armbands, and other apparel for personal protection against cuts, punctures, and other injuries. Their technology is a competitor of Kevlar and they have been getting into similar industries, and their focus is on protecting people. Klever Innovations located in Grand Haven developed a new type of box cutter called the Klever Cutter. This box cutter was created in response to 9/11 because the traditional box cutter being used as a weapon. The group that founded Klever Cutter set up to create a product that would open boxes, but would not cut the anyone, or damage the goods inside the box. So with the Klever Cutter you wouldn’t need a pair of Hexarmor gloves now would you?

Shuffling over to the home improvement area, we have some redundancy with the following two products Quick Door Hanger and EZ-Hang, (though if I had been “klever” I would have worked both of these companies into my last post). Both these products allow for quick, easy and plumb door installations. Quick Door Hanger is produced by Express Products located in Grandville. The EZ-Hang door is based in Hesperia. Express Products also produces the Fix-A-Kink product that helps fixed kinked hoses. It seems that they have found quite the niche with home improvement products for consumers.

Alright logograbber75we made it through the store, now its time to checkout. But even the checkout aisle has a few impulse items for us to look at. Especially in the fall and winter season you will be seeing many displays for hand warmers like Grabber (not at all fond of the name) based in Grand Rapids. There is an extensive write up in Rapid Growth about how they are more than just hand warmers and how the company got started.

Lastly, who couldn’t use a pair of new shades, that is where Global Vision of Byron Center comes in. They are a wholesaler of sunglasses, safety glasses, and goggles which are perfect for the hardware store. Interesting side note, apparently both Global Vision and Grabbers have the same marketing person – Matt Pickel. Someone needs to update their website.

We finally got out of the store, except now we have a cart full of stuff that we didn’t come in here to buy. Oh well that is how it usually works anyways.  So what did I miss? Do we need to go to the home and garden section next?

Hung

Confession time, I have way too many saved bookmarks on my internet browser.  Occasionally I go through and try to purge any links that no longer work or that I don’t find interesting anymore.  Now every time I did this I always hesitated on one link on whether I should delete it or keep it.  Well I decided to keep it and look now I have a blog post.

The link in question is http://www.robertcarltonhangers.com/.  Robert Carlton, is not a distinguished English Gentleman, but rather a local manufacturer of “high quality wooden hangers,” located in Zeeland, MI.  Per the website Robert Carlton is owned by Bennett Wood Specialties, which is a 4th generation family owned business that started back in 1906. Granted hangers aren’t really sexy or exciting like micro-breweries or start-ups, but all the same I stumbled upon this link and decided to save it.  Luckily though I happened to stumble upon on a different link this time for http://www.hangersplus.us/. Hangers Plus is a company located in Coopersville, that makes hangers! Now with Hangers Plus, they have a huge variety of hangers – plastic or wooden, US or European Style (who knew?), tops, bottoms,  outwear, or intimate…the possibilities are endless. They also manufacturer their hangers around the world – Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India.  They also have numerous other locations.  Which is quite impressive for a company most have never heard of, tucked away in Coopersville, quietly making hangers.

How do you like that two hanger companies in West Michigan?  Honestly it isn’t a big deal, but I would have never thought that West Michigan would have had one hanger company, let alone two.  But it just goes to show the width breadth of products that are made by local companies, and also showcases how one seemingly simple product can have some many variations and ways to differentiate yourself.

Gone But Not Forgotten Part 3

Well enough of the history lesson, lets focus on the present.  Right now West Michigan area has a small amount of minor league teams:

Grand Rapids
– West Michigan Whitecaps – Baseball
– Grand Rapids Griffins – Hockey

Muskegon
– Muskegon Lumberjacks – Hockey

Kalamazoo
– Kalamazoo K-Wings – Hockey

That isn’t much, especially considering that Grand Rapids was once known as “The Nation’s premiere minor-league destination” during the 1990’s, according to Grand Rapids Press sports writer David Mayo.  Consider that in 2011 Grand Rapids was ranked as 178th on the Sports Business Journal’s list of the Top Minor League Market.  Back in 2005 Grand Rapids was listed as high as 25th, though losing the Grand Rapids Rampage was a large cause for the drop. Even more shockingly is that back in 1997 Grand Rapids was ranked as one of the top ten markets with sufficient capacity for a potential expansion NBA team by the American City Business Journal.

So what happened West Michigan?  Why have so many teams failed, especially after becoming a premiere minor league destination.  It’s obvious that hockey is king in Michigan, and with the Grand Rapids Griffins winning the 2013 Turner Cup, I can only see them getting more popular in the region. In addition being an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, greatly helps legitimatize the Griffins and helps Red Wing fans in this region have a stronger tie to the Red Wings.  Some of the other hockey teams in the also have some affiliation, like the Kalamazoo K-Wings are like a AA affiliate to the Chicago Wolves (AAA) who are then an affiliate of the Vancuver Canucks (a NHL Hockey Team).  Whereas the Muskegon Lumberjacks are just located in a type of player development league without any professional team affiliation.

But what about the national pastime of baseball?  Baseball has  had a particularly long and sad history in Grand Rapids until 1994 when the Whitecaps finally starting playing.  The Whitecaps seem to be doing well in West Michigan, and one potential cause for this could also be that they are a minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. This is a genius idea of both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers to base at least one of their minor league teams on the west side of the state, instead of having the team in some far away state.  It’s a great way to build up fan support, and give people a connection to the professional team on the other side of the state.

One of my theories on why many minor league teams did not last in the region has to do with West Michigan’s love affair with high school sports. As a transplant to this region I was absolutely shocked, and dumbfounded by the attention that high school sports garnered, in the media, in the community, and in everything.  It blew my mind that high school sports got any attention on regional news broadcasts, and front page treatment on sports sections in the newspapers, and even their own tv shows after the evening news.  Even after living in the region for over 8 years I am still surprised by the attention high school sports get. Now granted I may change my tune in 10 years if my children start playing competitive sports in High School, but for right now I am sticking with my original convictions.  Thinking about high school sports, I find that they would be competing for the same time and money that minor league sports would from potential fans/consumers.  Attendance to high school sporting events, require admission fees, food vendor sales, same evening time-slots, especially on weekends.  So minor league teams have to compete against normal time and money commitments of fans, but also against even more convenient sports entertainment from the local high school teams.

I most likely guilty as anyone for not supporting the teams that we do have.  I can probably count on my hands how many games I have been too since moving to West Michigan, and to date I have only seen the Holland Blast, West Michigan Whitecaps, and Grand Rapids Griffins play.  Though it would be nice to have a nice constant presence of some other teams like in basketball or soccer… you know to give me and the family options on a Friday night…at least until the kids are in high school.

Any other thoughts on theories on the lack of success of minor league sports in West Michigan? Let me know.

Part III in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan –
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II

Gone But Not Forgotten – Part 2

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part I ,

Hockey

Finally we will start talking about the sport that is near many West Michiganders hearts… hockey.  Michigan is a hockey mad state, and the West Side is no different.  Looking through the list of defunct teams you see a great number of them were hockey clubs.  It also wouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the two remaining minor league sports teams left Grand Rapids is a hockey team, the Griffins.

One of the oldest hockey teams that I could find in the area wasn’t in Grand Muskegon RedsRapids but in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Reds played from 1935 to 1938 in the Michigan Ontario Hockey League.  They played in the Mart Auditorium along with another team the Muskegon Sailors (who started in 1938).  Another interesting note is that the Chicago Blackhawks used The Mart as their preseason training facility.

Grand Rapids would get its team, the Rockets, in 1949 and they would go until 1956Rockets playing in The Stadium Arena, which is now known as the DeltaPlex. The Rockets left Grand Rapids in 1956 and moved to Huntington, West Virginia ( a hockey hotbed) and became the Hornets.

Zephyr Gas Can60_35One of the longest tenured teams in West Michigan was located in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Zephyrs started in 1960 and different variations of this team existed until 1992 (those they did change names quite frequently).  Zephyrs were owned by Jerry Delise, and they got their name from sponsor Zephyr Oil Co. of North Muskegon.  They even won the IHL championship in 1962. For the 1965-1966 season the Zephyrs renamed themselves and became the Mohawks.  They Muskegon_Mohawks_(IHL)_logoremained the Mohawks until 1984-1985 season when the team was sold to a new ownership group for $1, and then they became the Lumberjacks who played until 1992, before moving to Cleveland. But that was not last of the Lumberjacks in Muskegon, oh no… the Lumberjacks never die and rise again harder and stronger. The name was re-used twice.  The 1st time the Muskegon Fury took the name after the Lumberjacks left town, but they eventually relocated as well, moving to Evansville for the 2010-2011 season.  This Lumberjack vacancy was soon filled because Rochester Mustangs moved to Muskegon and became the new Lumberjacks who are still currently playing in the new USHL (a reincarnation of the past league).  No wonder it took me so long to write this post, its quite confusing with the teams coming and going, and keeping the same name, crazy ole Lumberjacks.

Grand Rapids BladesOne of the unfortunate realities of many of these teams is that they often only play for one season and then they disband or relocate.  Such was the case with the Grand Rapids Blades who played for the 1976-1977 season, and even won the USHL championship, then they ceased to exist.  Ready for a rabbit hole?  Ok in more recent history there was another Blades team, but this time located in Kansas City and they belonged in the IHL from 1990 to 2001.  Tying this back to West Michigan, guess who owned the Kansas City Blades, that’s right The Ledger favorite family… the DeVos’.  They purchased the team in 1996, the family also owned the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Orlando Solar Bears as well.  The wikipedia article on the Blades states that the DeVos family rather quickly became the fans enemies, with a series of changes they made, and how they attempted to move the Blades to Oklahoma City.

Give A Hoot!

Give A Hoot!

For all the teams that were born in Grand Rapids, and then migrated elsewhere, the Grand Rapids Owls were one club that did the opposite.  They started out as the Dayton Owls and they moved to Grand Rapids mid-season in 1977.  They lasted until 1980, when they disbanded the club due to financial reasons, and not being able to get a new stadium to play in.  The redundantly named Stadium Arena (now known as the DeltaPlex) was their home ice stadium, they missed out on the Van Andel arena by 16 years. Though Grand Rapids did miss some infamy by a couple of months, because one of the Owls players, Raymond William (Wild Willie) Trognitz was permanently suspended from the IHL, when during a brawl against the Port Huron Flags, Trognitz took his stick and struck it against a Flags player’s head, putting that player in the hospital.  The reason Grand Rapids escaped the infamy, because the team was still the Dayton Owls the time.

ggrizz2- jerseyShortly after the Owls closed up shop, the Grand Rapids Grizzlies took to the ice from 1980 to 1982 for the Continental Hockey League (not to be confused with the Russian version.

Then finally in 1996, the Van Andel Arena was built, and shortly there after Dave Van Andel and Dan DeVos formed West Michigan Hockey, Inc. which was able to bring the Griffins into town.  They effectively solved the problem of a lack of a stadium in Grand Rapids, which brought an end to the Owls.

Then there is roller hockey.  Apparently West Michigan had its own league eloquently named Michigan Elite Roller Hockey League.  In 2001 this league merged with the National Roller Hockey League (love cached websites!)  West Michigan was littered with the following roller hockey teams: Grandville Gators, Grand Rapids RiverFrogs, Kalamazoo Jones Soda (blatant copyright infringement), and Muskegon Comets.  Looks like there might have also been a Lansing Wild Cocks team, and the Kalamazoo team may have changed its name to the Warriors.

Soccer

Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s been tough to dig up much information on soccer in West Michigan.  Grand Rapids had a team called the Explosion and Kalamazoo had a couple of teams one indoor team called the Kangaroos and an outdoor team called the Kingdom.

Well time to come clean, I am stretching this series into a three part-er.  So in the next installment I will be exploring some reasons why so many of these teams have come and gone in West Michigan.

Once again feel free to share any stories you have about these teams, or any pictures or anything else.

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part III

Gone But Not Forgotten – Defunct Sports Teams of West Michigan – Part 1

Part I in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part II

A blending of passions always yields some interesting results.  And recently I started blending two of my passions – sports and history.  Makes perfect sense right?  Fatigued with the high school sports (which after 7 years the local fanaticism, and hype still baffles me), and not really feeling the Griffins and Whitecaps, I started looking for something else.  Some how I stumbled into the world of defunct pro/semi-pro teams that once were.  Trust me there is a lot.  Many of these teams only competed for a year or two, and then they either moved to a different city, closed up shop, or their league folded.  Learning more about these teams and their history has been fascinating.  These teams covered the gamut of sports from baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and hockey.  Not only were these teams located in Grand Rapids, but there have been many teams that had homes in the smaller cities in West Michigan like Holland, and Muskegon.

It’s amazing how you start researching one aspect of this sports world and it starts unraveling more and more, such as the teams they played against, their leagues, and if your lucky you might also find photos of players, of the team, logos and if your lucky the stories.
Take for instance the Holland Oilers, which was a basketball team that played for two seasons in the Midwest Professional Basketball League in 1962-63 to 1963-1964 and even won the championship in 62-63 season.  The Oilers also had the first ever high school player drafted ever by the NBA, play for them as well.  The player’s name was Reggie Harding, and his fascinating, yet quite sad and tragic story can be read in full here.  Another interesting connection is that the Holland Oilers were coached angtacker1d co-owned by Gene Schrotenboer, and Gene also coached and co-owned the Grand Rapids Tackers, another Midwest Professional Basketball League team.  I have no idea how you can coach two different teams in the same league but yeah it was the 60’s, I guess anything can happen.  It’s difficult to find a lot info on the Tackers, but you can read more in the book “Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids” where a whole chapter is devoted to the team, check out the excerpt here.

Basketball in West Michigan also has a much more recent history as well – teams Grand Rapids Mackerslike the Grand Rapids Mackers turned Grand Rapids Hoops, turned West Michigan Mayhem.  Does anyone else remember the team travel bus of the Mayhem? I have fond memories of that bus rolling down the highway with its huge gaudy “wave” looking mascot guy emblazoned on the side.  It always resulted in a few double-takes.  What I find fascinating is GrandRapidsHoops8994the amount of success that the Hoops had when they started, and what happened to lead them to disband in 2003.  All mentions of the Hoops in local media state that the Hoops were quite successful early on in their career both with their playing and with attendance MichiganMayhemand fan support, so what happened?  How come they left town and ultimately disbanded?  I will be exploring this topic and writing down my thoughts on it in a future installment of this series.  That’s right Part 1 and 2 or maybe even 3.

More recently within the past 5 years Holland Blast, and Grand Rapids Flight  came into existence and just as quickly they left, Holland in 2007, and Grand Rapids in 2008.  The Flight also have the distinction of having the world’s tallest athlete on their roster with Sun Mingming.  Anyone see any games of the Flight with Sun Mingming playing? Here is an image below.  Living in Holland we did end up supporting the Blast.  It was a nice activity in the city and we attended a handful of games, and even got a T-shirt from the Blast.  Recently I just found out that Holland is home now to another basketball team, the Holland Dream though their season just ended a couple weeks ago. Hopefully, I will catch them next year, if they are still around.

So that was a little trip down in basketball history, how about we talk about our national past time – baseball.  Luckily, the West Michigan Whitecaps provide a nice little section on their website about the baseball history in this region. Baseball was played in Grand Rapids as early as 1882, and throughout the years many teams came and went and here are some of the notable names that were left behind:

  • Furniture Makers
  • Rustlers
  • Gold Bugs
  • Ganzeloids
  • Braves
  • Black Sox
  • Bissell Sweepers
  • Bill-Eds
  • Billberts
  • Billbobs
  • Bob-o-Links
  • Dodger Colts
  • Chicks
  • Orphans
  • Tigers
  • Cabinet Makers
  • Sullivans
  • Raiders
  • Jets
  • Joshers
  • Shamrocks
  • Wolverines
  • Champs
  • Raiders
  • Colts
  • Boers
  • Homoners
  • Grads
  • Rippers

The Jets dropping some bombs!

Those are some wild names, especially all the “Bill” & “Bob” names, not to mention the early corporate sponsorship with Bissell, and their product tie with the “sweeper” name.  As you could image it is hard to focus on all these teams so let’s pick out a couple of interesting ones to look at further.  For instance, the Grand Rapids Black Sox, featured future Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige who played for the team.  The owner of the Black Sox formed the team and tried to get them to join the Negro Leagues in 1953.  The Grand Rapids Chicks were a all girls baseball team that moved from Milwaukee to play in Grand Rapids from 1945 to 1954 in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. They were quite successful making the playoffs every single year that they were in Grand Rapids until the league folded. The Grand Rapids Historical Commission did a nice write-up on the Chicks.

The Chicks of course provide a great tie-in to my alma mater, University of Illinois at Chicago – UIC who in their earlier days were known as the Chikas (which was a Native American tribe) before they changed their name to the Flames (better).  Another baseball team playing in that same decade, was the Grand Rapids was the Jets.  They played in the Central League from 1948 to 1951, and played at Bigelow Field in Wyoming, who you can see in the above image doing some long toss.

Ottawa County Times Baseball Team picture

I guess they could have also played for the “Cot”s

Digging further back into the archives we can look at some teams in Holland that were operating back in the 1890’s – The Ottawa County Times, which sounds more like a newspaper than a baseball squad, but as we can see from the Grand Rapids names from this era of baseball anything goes.  Some other baseball teams that played in

Holland were the Internationals, Wooden Shoes

Who played domestically

The Holland Internationals – Who played domestically

(of course), and Flying Dutchmen (naturally).  With all this history of baseball in Holland, there is some basis for trying to bring back a minor league team to Holland.  It seems like there were a large number of teams all over West Michigan playing baseball. I am trying to learn more about them and plan to do so with this book “Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan

One other baseball note I wanted to see if I could get some follow-up on is the West Michigan Whitecaps “Turn Back the Clock” days they have done in the past. Per their website they did the following games where they honored these past teams and wore their uniforms:

  • 1899 Furnituremakers
  • 1903 Orphans
  • 1921 Joshers
  • 1922 Billbobs
  • 1948 Black Sox
  • 1950 Jets
  • Holland Flying Dutchmen
  • Ludington Mariners

So if you have attended any of these games or have photos of the players in the jerseys, I would love to hear from you or see the photos.

Football was also quite prevalent.  In the 1940’s there was the Michigan Independent Football League, which featured the Holland Hurricanes, and the Grand Rapids All-Stars. Holland Hurricanes Football Programs Some other teams found on the a game program, I dug out for the Hurricanes were the Ionia Independents, Highland Park Bears.  Around that time there was also a Southern Michigan Football League for which there is a nice little write up about the Bay City team, and some of the other teams in that league.

In much more recent years, there was the Michigan Football League, which has somehow been miraculously preserved with this fine website on the league and its teams   at http://www.semiprofootball.org/mfl.htm. I wish all these leagues had such a detailed website available about them.  You can read up more on the Grand Rapids Crush (which could have very well been the soda), and other MFL teams, like the Huskies.  I love the progression of the Holland Huskies though, they started out as the Hamilton Huskies in 94, then in 95 they moved to Holland to become the Holland Huskies, then in 1999 they moved to Grand Rapids and became the Michigan Huskies.  For me it just strikes me as odd that a team would start out in Hamilton of all cities.  Another team located in the city was the Grand Rapids Thunder, which was founded in 2003, but no longer seems to be in existence.

Well I think that is enough for now, next post we will take a closer look at hockey and touch upon soccer, and look into why minor league teams succeed or fail in West Michigan.

So did I interest you?  Do you have anything to share?  Have you been to any games, do you have any photos or additional information about these teams or any other teams that I didn’t mention?  Please share – post them in the comments or shot me an email at ledgerwm @ gmail.com.  I am extremely interested in learning more so anything you got, let me know. Let’s do a better job of preserving and sharing this piece of local sports history, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Part I in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part II

Generic… err Private Label Manufacturing in West Michigan

As discussed in a past post, West Michigan with its rich Dutch heritage has a reputation of being cheap. One thing that exemplifies the perception of cheap is the store brands or private labels products you can purchase in stores right along side the name brand products. You know the Meijer peanut butter, Spartan Stores frozen broccoli, or Walgreen’s toothbrushes. Almost every store has a complete offering of products with their store brand emblazoned on the product, and it is generally cheaper than the name brand version sitting right next to it. Well it shouldn’t surprise anyone that West Michigan is home to a number of these private label manufacturers making a wide array of products to sell to consumers with a store brand name on the packaging. Here is a list I have compiled, so lets get rolling!

Cheeze Kurls – But not only do they make Cheeze Kurls, but they also make balls, puffs, pops, fries, nuggets, pieces, among other delicious products. So while you might see their own brand on the shelves but most likely some of the store brands you purchase have been produced by Cheeze Kurls. Per this article 85% of their business is private label – some of the noted customers are Meijer, Spartan, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, CVS, and Rite-Aid.  Cheeze Kurls is located in the Walker area nearby Meijer.  Check out MiBiz’s piece on the company for an extremely thorough look at the company and on the snack food.

Quincy Street Inc.  – Is a private label meat (pork)  processor located in Holland on Quincy Street!  They definitely get extra points for originality in naming their company.

Request Foods – Surprisingly we have already covered Request Foods and how their company name was inspired by the DeVos’ Windquest boat.  I just don’t know about Holland companies and the way they go about naming their companies.  To recap Request Foods specializes in frozen entrees and provides private labeling, just look the picture and imagine your private label here.

Festida Foods –  Staying with the snack food theme, Grand Rapids is also home to Festida Foods, a private label manufacturer of tortilla chips and corn chips – what exactly is a corn chip and how is it different from a tortilla chip?  Earlier this  year they moved from Cedar Springs to a facility in Grand Rapids to meet their recent growth.

Artesian Distillers – Yes private label vodka, whisky, gin, or rum is now available, thanks to Grand Rapids based Artesian Distillers.  Based on their website they say they are working on opening up a tasting room in Rockford.  It’s a husband and wife team that started the operation.  I can’t wait to see my Meijer brand Vodka, or Spartan Rum.

Magnum Coffee Roastery – This one I found purely on dumb luck.  For some reason I was driving through Nunica (I know right), and smelled coffee in the air and saw this large building on the side of the road.  This lead me to do some more research on Magnum Coffee Roastery, and by research I just looked up their website.  Well they too offer private label brands.

Down Inc – Is a 50 year company based in Grand Rapids that produces down filled comforters and pillows for private labels.  In an interesting move Down Inc. actually named some of their customers in this Grand Rapids Press article – like Crate & Barrel, Room & Board, and how they supply JW Marriott and the Amway Grand Hotels (kudos to the hotels for buying local).  In a wise business decision of vertical integration – Down Inc is owned by Maple Leaf Farms – the largest producer of duck meat in the US.  So now we know where all those duck feathers come from, what a perfect idea… it almost makes too much sense.

Ranir – Oral care from West Michigan. Yes, Ranir in Grand Rapids is a leading private label manufacturer of oral care products – ranging from tooth brushes, to floss, whitening products to other assorted mouth related products.

Perrigo – One of the best known companies in the region is Perrigo based in Allegan.  They are the world’s largest manufacturer of OTC pharmaceutical products for the store brand markets.  As a company they have been broadening their product offerings with recent acquisitions of baby formula, and pet care brand Sergeant’s.  If you can be sure to check out their factory store in downtown Allegan so you can see all the store brands for yourself, side by side.  Here is an image from their historical medicinal display from within the store.

Pretty interesting list, and potentially mind blowing.  Especially if you were one of those people who always prefers Meijer cheese curls snacks over Spartan brand, you might be eating the exact same snack, or using the exact same toothbrush or whatever.  So any other private label manufacturers out that you are aware of?  Please share them with me in the comments section.

Aster Workshops – Start Garden Entry

Well this seems like a no-brainer, Start Garden has an entry for the competition on August 16th, called Aster Workshops. If you need me to spell things out for you, Aster is a flower, and flowers grow in gardens. How perfect would it be for Start Garden to select Aster Workshops as a winner, and then help Aster Workshops “grow” with the $5,000 prize, and help “nurture” the company forward until it “blossoms”.

Anyways the Aster Workshops idea was submitted by Tom Pietri, a friend of mine who I have worked together with the Google Fiber for Holland campaign back in 2010. I was interested to hear from Tom firsthand about this idea, and I had a chance to recently interview him about the idea. Enjoy.

  • The Ledger: What is the idea? – Tom Pietri: The idea is to have a
    network of independent craftsmen who would build high quality production furniture.
  • TL: Ok, lets get some more details. – TP: I have a group of
    craftsmen, like woodworkers, welders, and finishers.  Each of these
    craftsmen has the skills to create furniture and they have all the
    necessary equipment, tools, in either their home garage, pole barn, or workshop.  I would design the furniture, and sell the finished
    furniture through furniture stores or our website to consumers.  When an order would come in for a set number of pieces, I would find out which of my craftsmen would have the time and capacity to complete their part of the furniture project, within certain number of days.  Once their part is completed, I would inspect the finished pieces, and deliver them to next craftsman to work on.  For example if an order for a table was made – I would provide the wood for the woodworkers, who would complete the wood portion of the table.  Then the wood portion would be brought to the finisher, who would then add a finish to the wood table top, and finally the wooden tabletop would be joined with the metal base for the table which was created by the welder.
  • TL: Sounds like you are the glue in this whole operation, bringing everything together, and filling in the spots. Can you elaborate more on your role? – TP: Sure.  Right now I have a small group of craftsmen, who are ready to go.  But of course as things get going, I will have to add to my roster of craftsmen at Aster Workshops, so that would involve validating any new craftsmen, by checking their work, and ensuring that it meets my quality standards.  In addition I am also the lead designer, creating the furniture designs, and developing new ideas.  But of course as this gets moving along, I might also be interested to taking submissions of designs from other people as well to incorporate their work into the process.  Then I am doing almost everything else.  Like talking with the furniture stores, receiving feedback to develop the product catalog further, and also doing quality control checks on the pieces of furniture, delivering materials, and finished products as needed, and finally also acting as a craftsman as well, if demand goes over capacity, I am ready to act as a safety valve, as I already build custom furniture in my home shop.
  • TL: You mentioned furniture stores, is that your primary customer? – TP: Initially yes, local furniture stores are a great starting point, because they already are known in the market, they have intimate knowledge on the market, the consumers, and furniture trends. I am hoping that by working with the furniture stores we can design and create pieces that may fill a gap in their current offering, and also learn how Aster Workshops can better serve the market and the customers.  But we are open to selling to individuals as well, so when our website gets updated with our designs, feel free to contact us with any interest.
  • TL: Where did this idea come from? – TP: I currently build custom furniture pieces, and wanted to expand my market, and get more regular business, but since there is only me, I have limited capacity. Realizing that there must be other local craftsmen in the area, who do the same thing, and would like to leverage their skills and abilities to create pieces, what if I could link up all the various craftsmen, so we could operate like a factory, but without all the overhead, and fixed costs.  The craftsman would be well compensated for their work, and they would only take new projects as they have capacity for.  I thought it made perfect sense.
  • TL: What is in it for the craftsmen? – TP: Obliviously, they will
    be paid for their work.  They will also be able to do something that
    they enjoy doing.  I enjoy being an independent craftsman, and take a lot of pride in my work, and there is nothing more satisfying than
    being able to create something like furniture with your own hands and tools.  The next best thing is hearing the reaction from the recipient or customer of the piece created.  So if I enjoy this feeling every time I am creating something, I am sure that there must be many other craftsmen who feel the same way.  By creating this network, these craftsmen can employ their craft and use their skills to be part of something bigger, and have access to more regular work, and be a part of a whole community.  Plus they get to put their Maker’s Mark on the pieces they make.
  • TL: Maker’s Mark? I am guessing this is not a bottle of whiskey you are referring too. – TP: Hahaha, no.  What I wanted to do was have something unique to each craftsman who is part of Aster Workshops, to have their own unique mark, that signifies that this piece of furniture was made by a unique individual, and not a faceless company. Each craftsman would have their mark, and this will be placed on the furniture, along with any other craftsmen who had their hands in creating the piece of furniture. These Maker’s Marks will be placed somewhere inconspicuous.
  • TL: So if you get selected by Start Garden what would you use that $5,000 for? – TP:Mainly operating capital, I need to ensure that the pieces that we are designing and creating would be well received in the furniture stores, and that they would be selling regularly.  So we will need to do some testing on various designs to determine what is going to sell.
  • TL: Now that I asked you about the best possible outcome with your entry, I need to follow-up with what happens if you don’t win? - TP: Well since I can always re-enter Start Garden, I will re-work my entry and try again through that avenue.  But I would also look at some standard investment strategies, and if neither of those go through, then I would use my own money and just go at a much slower pace to create and grow my business.  So no matter what happens, keep checking asterworkshops.com.
  • TL: Great, thanks for the information Tom, and definitely keep us posted, and The Ledger would like to keep checking up on your progress periodically. – TP: Not a problem at all, and hopefully I will have some good news to share.

There we go, an in-depth look at Aster Workshops, one of the entrants in Start Garden. It is quite an interesting idea, because almost everyone knows a craftsman – either a co-worker, family member, or a neighbor. You know the guy or girl, with a garage full of tools and equipment, and who is always working on some new project or product. They are everywhere. The best thing is that the people who do build stuff on their own time, in their own workshops, are passionate about what they do, and they enjoy doing it. With West Michigan’s rich heritage in furniture manufacturing and woodworking, this region is ripe with people who can do this type of work, and also people who appreciate the end result. So why not leverage this ready and available resource, to help create unique furniture pieces, that each have their own story to tell.

Anyways best of luck to Aster Workshops, and if this idea really resonates with you be sure to vote for them by Thursday August 16th, at http://startgarden.com/ideas/detail/aster-workshops.

Questions for Tom Pietri and of Aster Workshops – email him at tom@asterworkshops.com or visit the website asterworkshops.com.