Family business celebrates 30 years
When Floyd Havemeier purchased his first building in downtown Rockford, he had no intention of opening up his own shop, much less starting a family dynasty in Herman’s Boy, a roastery, bakery, confectionery and smokehouse located at 220 Northland Drive. Now his store employs three generations of the family, has a total staff of 20 and is in the 30th year of operation.
“It’s hard to talk about how good things are when so many people are having a hard time,” Havemeier said. “It’s not that we work hard, lots of people work hard and it doesn’t work out for them. It’s timing and blessings.”
Havemeier said he was working in the insurance industry when he purchased the building at 63 Courtland, now Aunt Candy’s Toy Company, as an investment. As Havemeier became familiar with the town and its shops, he thought it might be nice to have a business where his wife Sharon and kids could work while he was away long hours at his job. Havemeier said he was often out of town Monday through late Friday and had to work from his office Saturdays. He didn’t see much of his family. He thought a little shop might be nice for them.
It was 1979 and things in Rockford were different than today. Back then Harvest Festival was only one weekend and it was sponsored by the Squire’s Street merchants association. There were just as many stores, but more of the merchants made what they sold. Havemeier’s kids were young—Jeff, the oldest, was 17, Doug was 15, Heidi was ten or 11 and Brian was five or six.
“People who want to have a business of their own think about what they are willing to put into it, not what it is necessary to put into it,” he said. “They think about what they owe their family, what they owe their children. I think one thing you owe them is to support them.”
In the beginning, the business, then the Melting Pot, sold hand-made items such as children’s clothing and other small products. Havemeier had heard of a buisiness that was going under, the Coffee Ranch, and purchased it, so the shop sold coffee as well. “I kept that business [the Coffee Ranch] going without interruption,” he said. “It is now 108 years old, which is how we are a Michigan Centennial retailer.”
As time progressed, Havemeier purchased inventories of businesses that were closing, rather than have those products no longer available in Rockford. The children grew into the job as well. At first they had little jobs to do. Havemeier even built a little cubby-hole play house for the youngest in the walls and the children would talk to customers from it. Later they took on real jobs and began running the day-to-day operations along with Havemeier, who still works 40 to 60 hours a week. When Sharon no longer worked in the store she provided care for the grandchildren, which she still does.
“In 30 years I never found it necessary to fire anyone,” he said. “We all have different talents and we just sort of steer that person in the direction of their talents.” He also said one of his most enjoyable aspects of the company has been working with the youngsters as employees. “With the exception of two boys who left before we could fire them, they all have been exceptionally competent and reliable. I think that says a lot of the community and the school system.”
Havemeier uses the example of Steve Peck, who began working for the company as a high school student. Peck went on to culinary school and the day he graduated, Havemeier offered him a full time job. Each of Havemeier’s children have also moved into their own field within the business.
Heidi does the baking, along with Peck. Doug does the cookware purchasing for the kitchen items and ceramics. Brian is in charge of the smokehouse, grilling and teaches grilling classes as well. “Everyone can do everyone else’s job, though,” Havemeier pointed out. He couldn’t be more proud of the hard work his family continues to put into the business and how their individual talents have grown with the company.
Over the years Havemeier has seen many shops come and go and knows each closed door is a heartache and dashed dreams to the owner. “Some can’t make it. They get into rental contracts they have no business getting into. To survive they need sufficient customers through their doors. It’s a delicate balance.”
Part of the success of Herman’s Boy was that Havemeier supported his family with his insurance job, so any profits could be reinvested back into the company. He also said businesses will have a better chance of survival if they can afford to buy a building rather than depend on a landlord. Before moving from his original Courtland location to the Coffee Ranch on Northland Drive, he sold his buildings downtown to merchants he believed would succeed.
Recognizing value is another lesson Havemeier believes has made his family business a success. He believes this is a lesson the business community could follow. As the different stores he incorporated into Herman’s Boy were closing, he bought them, appreciating the value of what they had to offer. Each added piece made the whole that much more marketable. Havemeier thinks the town has plenty of historic and artistic value that could add to an already impressive package.
With manufacturing in Wolverine closing down, Havemeier thinks right now is the time to save the history of the Rockford manufacturing shoe industry. “It served its purpose and it is time [to close it],” he said. “To preserve knowledge and history, we need to act now while the people are still around who worked there. That’s a marketable value to this town.”
Havemeier believes the many talents in our community could be showcased in a cultural center. He believes that Rockford’s location, so close to the conventions held in Grand Rapids, could make it a day-trip destination. People visiting Grand Rapids could come here and enjoy our shops and restaurants and would be more likely to do so if there was a central destination where they could learn about the town’s history and art.
Having works of art on his walls today is a benefit Havemeier uses himself. Rogue River Artist show their work at Herman’s Boy during festivals, and if a piece sells, Havemeier does not take a percentage. “I already benefit from having them here. I may benefit more than they do. It’s a two-way street.”
ArtPrize proved his point, Havemeier believes. “When they first announced it, a lot of people didn’t think it was a good idea, and look what happened,” he said. “They will come.” He also used the Calder as an example. “A lot of people don’t even like the Calder, but when they go to Grand Rapids, they take people to look at it. Then they shop and eat.”
Now Havemeier can often be found in Herman’s Boy and at any given time several of his children are certain to be there. He said business is good, and credit should go to the ones who made it happen, his children. “Growing up, my children mostly only saw me on parts of the weekend. Now we are together as much as 50 to 100 hours a week. That’s a balance in life. I missed a lot then, but now the Lord has balanced it out—it’s more than evened up.”