Last week was a working vacation for my wife and me. We traveled to my home state of Michigan, where I presented a short seminar on the “The Mysteries of History as Told by Our Country’s Flags.” Touring the area with my brother and sister in-law who live in Holland, MI, is always enjoyable and interesting. This trip was no different in that I discovered some remarkable old-world craftsmanship coming out of a thriving family-owned manufacturing facility.
Holland Bowl Mill is an excellent example of entrepreneurialism in action blended with modern manufacturing for the global marketplace. But first, here’s an introduction to the company in its own words:
“Bowl turning is an American tradition that began over 150 years ago when wooden bowls were an important part of everyday life. Today, turning wood bowls is a vanishing art form, with Holland Bowl Mill being one of only a few commercial producers left in the United States. . .
The Holland Bowl Mill was originally started as the Wooden Shoe Factory in 1926 by Chester VanTongeren, and to this day is still owned and operated by Chester’s relatives. In 1984 the Holland Bowl Mill became a separate company whose current president and owner is Dave Gier, Chester’s grandson. The bowl mill is located in Holland, Michigan, near the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan.. . .
Because of increasing demand, plans were developed to move and expand the bowl mill in the summer of 2000. With over a year of planning, moving, designing new equipment, and training new craftsmen, the company opened the doors to a new bowl mill production facility in March 2002. The Holland Bowl Mill is now the best and largest solid wood bowl production facility in the world, making beautiful solid hardwood bowls of the highest quality, the same way they were made over 150 years ago.”
Entrepreneurs have their hands full in the early stages of any business development. But to grow such a business making old-world products in a modern-world marketplace takes persistence AND a compelling vision.
Holland Bowl Mill has filled a market niche while many of its historical competitors have packed up, changed to modern products, or retained a very small piece of the market. Survival in niche markets isn’t easy. The recipe for this company’s ongoing success is straightforward: It involves a family with a shared vision for the business, the workplace, and the products they make today, along with the creativity to bring new offerings to their customers.
The Gier family (father, mother, son, and daughter) operate the plant from the moment you walk in the front door, through the retail shop, to the plant floor and beyond. But it’s more than the Gier family that makes this business a success. It’s the people who work for the family. They’re part of the community and welcomed team members: in essence, an extended family. The advantages from these close relationships is very low (almost non-existent) turnover and a passion to learn a craft and grow on the job.
MACHINERY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP
Another important aspect that allows Holland Bowl Mill to offer a LIFETIME guarantee for its products is the craftsmanship involved from the time a huge log comes into the large saws, then moves on to the basic bowl lathes and through the curing, finishing (with the company’s own blend of bee’s wax and oil), and hand-decorating processes. If any part of this sequence were to fail (be it man, woman, materials, machine or work processes), the company would end up with scrap and waste.
I’m encouraged by this innovative family-owned business that has managed to thrive and endure through many decades of operation, including during times where many other businesses failed. It takes constancy of purpose, consistent product quality, reliable manufacturing processes, and people who can commit to the principles of “right the first time, every time.” Kudos to the Gier family and their employees!TRR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the “people-side” of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His vast background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, manufacturing, craftsmanship, entrepreneurship, Holland Bowl Mill