Generations of Family Business Success – Holland Bowl Mill – The Valorous Podcast


[00:00:00] Thank you for joining us today. I have a great privilege today of interviewing Korey from Holland Bowl Mill. I’ve known Korey for a number of years and have been a fan of Holland Bowl Mill and their products. And today I want to just give you an opportunity to learn a little bit more about them, their history, and why they’re such a great local west Michigan business.

Korey. Thanks for joining us today. We really appreciate your. Yes, no problem. Jonathan, I’m happy to be here and look forward to chatting with you. So, I guess obviously a lot of people are very familiar with how on bowl mill and the process you take from taking in literally trees in one end of the building and then solid wooden bowls, utensils and furniture coming out the other end of the building.

But if you would, can you start by giving us a little bit of history about how on bowl mill? I know that your fourth generation and tell us just a little bit about how things started and, and how you got to where you are. Yeah, I [00:01:00] would love to fill you in, in the audience. So. the bull mill started in 1906 in north Muskegon, which is about 45 minutes north of Holland by the fuller family.

And then my great grandfather, Chester of Toran started the original wooden shoe factory. Here in Holland, Michigan were first located downtown Holland. And then in the 1950s, we moved to us 31 and 16. At that time, we connected with the fuller family who started the bull mill and started selling their wooden bowls throughout the wooden shoe factory and our different shops.

And then in 1985 of Vic fuller contacted my dad. And they were looking to sell the bull mill and we developed such a strong relationship with them. We ended up purchasing it, moving it behind the wooden shoe factory. And operated there till the late 1990s. At that point, unfortunately, we had to [00:02:00] close down the wooden shoe factory for a lot of different reasons.

The tourism industry changed and the bowls just had were a lot more sustainable year around. So once the shoe closed, we had to locate a building. Where we could, uh, reopen the bull mill, which took a while we found our, uh, location off of jeans where we still are took about a year or so to build our lays, develop the building for what we were gonna do.

And then we opened our doors in 2002, where now the largest manufacturer of wooden bowls in the United States make 800 to a thousand bowls a week. And our products are carried in over, uh, 350 stores. Couple kind of cool fun facts there. We were featured on a show called how it’s made on the discovery and science channel.

They filmed here in oh seven and still show our episode about 10 times a year, which is a lot of fun. Oh, absolutely. And, and thank you for [00:03:00] sharing that. I know one of the things that I was so amazed at is I got to know more about the ho bull mill is that your bowls are, are solid wood. They’re not put together in pieces or anything like that.

Can you share a little bit about your process again? I, I know I’ve been to the factory and gone on a factory tour and maybe you could even tell us a bit about the, the tours that are available, but Korey, can you share a little bit about again, how you guys start with literally. Trees on one end, uh, carry things through, and then maybe also talk a little bit about your sustainability.

I know that you guys literally use every scrap of wood in one aspect or another to really create a very sustainable business. Yeah, I would definitely love to fill everyone in. So yes, we don’t use any, uh, glues or adhesives. Our bowls are all solid one piece. So the process starts, so say Jonathan at your house, a storm came through, knocked down a few cherry trees.

You would probably call local tree service. There’s a good chance. We work with that local tree service. [00:04:00] And we would be purchasing those trees to make our products. So we work with the smaller tree services who are bringing us a few logs at a time up to the larger mills who are bringing us 40 to 50 at a time.

We’re looking for eight to 14 foot, uh, logs, lengthwise, and at least 16 inches in diameter. Once we get the logs delivered to us, they get loaded up onto what’s called a log deck. From there, they get power washed. They’ll get dropped down in the log trough, and then they’ll be cut into two foot blocks.

Then they are rolled down to the rip, saw where they’re cutting to the actual bulb lengths that will go onto the lake. So we have two main lathes, a smaller one. That’s turning six inch, a seven inch, eight inch and 10 inch bowls. And then the larger one that’s turning nine inch, 12 inch, 15 inch, 17 inch and 20 inch.

Cool thing about our turning is we do what’s called nested turning, meaning you get numerous bowls out of each bowl blank. So, uh, say you have. 22 inch diameter log. That’s really high quality. [00:05:00] Each bowl blank will build a yield. What’s called a 20 inch blank. Meaning you’ll get a 20 inch, a 17 inch, a 15 inch, a 12 inch and a nine inch bowl out of that one blank that just helps us utilize all the wood and get the most out of it.

If it can’t be made into the bowls, we make wooden utensils, cutting boards, trees, candlesticks, grilling plans, grilling chips, small furniture lines. We’re always trying to come up with different ideas to utilize all the wood in the back production area. There’s a conveyor system that runs through the whole mill.

All the shavings get funneled through. It goes outside to a trailer and we donate all the shavings to the local horse farms. If we can’t utilize it like the wood, then we sell it for firewood $5 a cart. So a heck of a price, more just trying to get rid of it in another way to utilize everything. So not one part of the beginning tree ends up in a landfill.

So sustain, like you mentioned, sustainability is a [00:06:00] huge, huge aspect of our company. And we’re very proud of that. That, again, we’re a zero waste company. Oh, it’s, it’s such an amazing process. And if somebody’s interested in a tour, I know you guys offer tours and those are back up and running. How does somebody find out and, and get scheduled for a tour so they can actually see that whole process and how you guys do that?

Yeah, definitely. So we, we can visit our website, which will have information on the tours. But the tours run Monday through Friday from nine to 12, 12 30 to three, no appointment needed. If a group is under 10, we’re just doing ’em daily. A group comes in, we’ll, uh, greet them in our showroom.

We’ll kind of fill ’em in a little bit about our company. We’ll show ’em that how it’s made video. And then from there, we’ll take ’em out into the mill. They get to watch the whole process. We have three or four different tour guides. We’ll show ’em around. It takes about 15 minutes. We get groups in.

They’re just amazed at kind of what we do [00:07:00] after the tour. They’ll walk around for hour or so. It’s a fun kind of family atmosphere. It’s you really can’t see it anywhere else. So people are pretty blown away, uh, when they do come in, especially, uh, even locals, we’re still trying to get the word out to calendars and Midwest in general.

So many people don’t even know we’re here sort of hidden gym. Yeah. We love people coming in to see our store and we love doing the tours. I know you guys recently, if I’m not mistaken, was it last year, Korey, that you guys totally renovated your showroom and updated all that. So you’ve got a, a beautiful new showroom to showcase your products and give people the opportunity to really put their hands on things and see exactly the quality of what you make.

Was that about a year ago that you did that? It was 2020. So during the pandemic, June of 2020 is when we opened. So we were able to double the size of our showroom, make it more modern, update it. Yeah, it’s [00:08:00] incredible. We are so happy with the end product and how it turned out. And then we’re also open on Saturdays too.

From 10 to four. We don’t have the full production team here on Saturdays, but still we’ll show that video. We’ll take them out to the mill and let ’em see everything. But again, just the we’re not turning on Saturday. Oh, very, very, very interesting. I know I can personally attest if you’ve not been to the showroom or if you’ve not seen the tour, if you’re anywhere near Holland, it is definitely worth the trip over to Holland Bowl Mill to take a look at it’s.

From my perspective, the most, one of the most unique processes I’ve ever seen. And I, I loved watching how your team. Carve those nested bowls. It was just really, really cool to see that. So yeah, one of the things Korey, I know that’s been unique and, and you’ve played a huge role in this as, as other members of your family, but I know you’ve been to spearhead.

You’ve really grown the mill over the last number of years. Can you just share with us a little bit about some of the things that you’ve changed over [00:09:00] the, the time that you’ve been at home bow mill and, and what that’s done for the business to help it? Yeah, definitely. So I came on board after college.

So after I graduated from hope and then I worked out in the mill for, you know, two, three years just learning the process, shipping, sanding. Learning the company. Then in 2016, I stepped into more of a leadership role on the back end of the company. And, uh, was working hand in hand with my dad and a few other employees on ways that we can really take the company to the next step.

One of those was. Retail wise, we didn’t really have a retail store on site. At that time. We manufactured everything here and shipped all across the country, but we really didn’t have any walk-in sales. Randomly people would come in, but not a regular basis. So working with the Holland visitors bureau west coast, chambers local first auto grand rapids, and getting the word out, Hey, we’re redoing our showroom.

We’re welcoming people [00:10:00] into our store. We’re doing tours again. That made a huge, huge difference. And then. Emphasizing online sales, which valor circle is also played a huge role in is growing our e-commerce platform, connecting with affiliates, which is such a big thing. Now with social media is connecting with these influencers who can use our product shoulder followers.

And then hopefully from there, get them to go to our website and purchase, which has been pretty incredible. And then on the wholesale side is just finding the right partners who have the same values as us in growing with them. One of the main ones room and board based outta Minneapolis, they have, I think, 12 stores across the United States now, and then a huge online presence.

And then. We have about 350 stores across the United States who carry products, locally, cherry or public who some people might be familiar with in seasoned home in downtown [00:11:00] Holland. One other main reason we’ve been able to grow so much is just surrounding your team with the right employees and trusting your employees.

I think that’s one of the main things is training them and then letting them do their job and knowing that they can do it correctly. Uh, we’ve been very blessed to have such amazing staff who helped us grown over the years. There’s no doubt. It’s, it’s been, uh, so much fun to, to watch you guys grow and see some things that you’re doing.

I know I was surprised to learn that you guys had such a robust wholesale business, as well as the retail. Uh, and I think that’s really been interesting to, to learn from my perspective, Cory, I know one of the audiences that. That we reach out to through the podcast are other business owners as well. And one of the questions I love to ask is have there been any potholes or trials that you’ve ran into through that growth period?

And if so, what did you do to, to work through those or to get around those, to help make sure that you’ve been [00:12:00] able to maintain some of that growth? Is there anything that you can think of that you could share to maybe some inspiration or some other business owners? Yeah. There’s. Good days and bad days as we’ve grown in 2016, I think we are 12 employees.

Now we have 24 as you grow and get more employees. There’s a lot more headaches. We don’t be in a smaller business. We don’t have a HR department. I handle most of that. We are such a close family kind environment where my employees. Can come to me with work problems, but also outside of work issues. So that can be once in a while, a little overwhelming, just balancing that.

And then my home life, especially with three little kiddos now it keeps me busy and then with growth is, is great, but also just handling the logistics of having so many wholesale customers, production inventory as making sure. We’re staying on top of, uh, ship times lead [00:13:00] times and yeah, with growth it’s comes a lot more work, but again, I think the main thing is surrounding yourself with employees that you trust and can help make sure everything goes smoothly.

Okay. Oh, I really appreciate you sharing that. That’s that’s great. This is why we edit cuz sometimes I forget what I’m gonna say. all right. Let me think here. And we go back to my list. I gotta look down. That’s my nature. I try not to look down during, eventually we could talk about, I haven’t really brought up the personalization aspect of the, Ooh, that would be good.

The, but providing that’s a huge market and we could maybe to the family atmosphere owners kind of like to hear about that. Family generational company, how you’ve survived the generations. I feel like owners like to, oh, that’s good. Yeah. See, I should talked to you beforehand. These are great. Okay. Let’s we’ll count to three and quiet and then I’ll go into some of those.

That’s really good. Thank you, Korey.

So Cory, I know one of the questions a lot of people are gonna have is how do you [00:14:00] deal with, with growing a family business and, and dealing with multiple generations of family. I know you guys are very family oriented there at home bull mill. Talk to me a little bit about the challenges of working with your family and, and some of the blessings that come along with that.

Me and my dad, luckily are very close. It’s been very easy to work with him and my sister who came on board a few years ago, I think one of the main reasons is his, his FA his grandfather who started it instilled such good values in my dad. How to run a business, how to take care of your employees in those, uh, values were, are also passed on to me and.

by doing that, it’s just, it’s made it very easy to make sure we have this very healthy, good work environment where we treat our employees like family. They feel like family. And by doing that, we have very good [00:15:00] retainment. We know they come in every day, work hard. We take care of our employees by pay wise.

But again, there’s always challenges coming in every day, working with your family by it’s just trying to balance those. Sometimes things come up, step away, take a deep breath and get back at it. But in the long scheme of things, we’re so blessed that I am to work with my dad daily. Lot of people. Can’t say that.

And to be still this successful, you hear horror stories about generational companies. They get to the four generation and then from there they, they don’t make it much longer. So our goal is to keep it going and eventually pass it on to the next generation. Thanks for sharing that. That’s, that’s great to hear.

And I know it can be a struggle, especially in a, in a family business like that, but you guys have certainly done that in transition from generation to generation, as you said, much more successfully than I think a lot of companies have done. So kudos on that. One of the other things [00:16:00] I’m going back to the business side of things.

I know one of the other things you guys do is a lot of personalization because the bowls really are keepsakes in many ways, although they’re very usable. They’re, they’re also keepsakes. Can you talk to me a little bit about the engraving that you do and some of the specialty things you do for things like weddings and, and other special events.

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. That’s a huge, huge part of our business is what people looking for kind of a Harlo quality gift for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays. We tend to have a lot of products that fit that mold. So all of our, like our bowls, they all come with a lifetime guarantee. You can serve fruit salads, pasta rolls, really anything.

And a cool thing we do is we offer free engraving, which goes on the underside of the bowl. You get up to 50 characters that can be done right on our website. And then in store. Someone shopping, they find a product will engrave it while they wait. It only takes a few minutes. And then we do a lot more custom [00:17:00] engraving on the inside of the bowl from a wedding invitation to, we can really do anything.

Our engravers are incredible. There’s a cost associated with that. It’s just dictated on what we engrave and we also do free engraving on our cutting chicory boards, utensils. Honestly, really any of our items, cool thing about our boards are they’re all reversible. So you can cut on one side and present serve on the other.

So very functional, but again, yeah, anyone can always visit our website. It’ll have all of the products that we, if we carry or come in store and we’d love to show your round. You brought up functional, which I think is a really important thing for people to realize your bowls are, are absolutely works of art in my mind, they’re beautiful stunning bowls, but they’re also very practical and functional and can literally be used as I understand it on a day to day basis.

As you mentioned from everything from salads to pastas to anything you might imagine, can you tell us a little bit about the care of your bowl? If, if [00:18:00] I’m buying a bowl like this and it is something that I want to use or a cutting board that I want to have available. Is there a lot of special care. Can you guys help us with the things necessary to do that?

How does one use and, and care for some of these boards and, and bowls that you guys are producing? Great question. Yes. After each use, you’re gonna wash with warm water. And so that goes for the boards, the bowls, utensils, really any of our items. Then after washing numerous times, eventually the Wood’s gonna dry out.

We make a product in house called be oil, which is a mixture of food, safe, mineral oil, and, uh, bees wax. And that’s what we recommend periodically retreating. Your wooden wear with that helps prevent dryness cracking keeps it looking good. So a lot of people think wooden products. Oh my gosh. There’s so much care that was into.

How am I gonna do it? It’s it’s really not that hard. Just walk again, wash after each use and then periodically retreat. If you do that, it’s gonna be a halo piece that you can cherish your whole life and then eventually pass down. Yeah. And [00:19:00] then by doing that, all of our products come with a lifetime guarantee.

We include extensive care instructions, too, with any purchase, uh, care card that kind of goes over that whole process. And if I’m not mistaken, Korey, um, one of your primary, one of the primary social media influences you work with actually their, their whole channel is set up around chopped salads and they’re actually utilizing your bowls and, and things like that to literally chop up salads and create some incredibly tasty creations using your goals.

Am I correct on that and, and can make, is there anything you can share at all about what they do with the bowls, how they use them, or even who they. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So that’s one of our number one selling products would be our chopping bowls. So the chopping bowl would come with a MENA knife, which is a curved knife that’s used for chopping salad.

Yeah, they’re incredible. By far one of our best sellers, we work hand in hand with, uh, nutmeg notebook, who is one of our main affiliates and [00:20:00] she utilizes our shopping bowls and to her followers and shows them how to make different chopped salad. But yeah, it’s an incredible piece that people, people. Well, Korey, there’s no doubt in my mind that you guys have some of the most unique products.

And, and if you’re, whether you’re located in west Michigan, or you’re just visiting the fact that you give people the opportunity to actually come and see that process and the transparency you show, as well as the products I think is, is just absolutely amazing. One of the things that we love to do before we end the podcast is ask just literally a, a random question and we use a random question generator.

So if you don’t like this one, it’s not my fault. just press next question. But random question for the day. What’s something you always wanted to do as a child, but never got the opportunity to do. Oh, let’s see. I would [00:21:00] say

I never went to Disney world, which is crazy as a kid, we had a larger family for older brothers and sisters. They went before I was born, but as a child, I never got to go. So I would say that’s one. That I would’ve liked to do well. I appreciate you sharing that and being flexible with that. I know, uh, you’ve got a growing family at home as well, and, and that, so maybe that’s one of those things down the road that when you’re your little ones get a little older, they could enjoy as well.

Yes, exactly. Yep. Very cool. Very cool. Korey, last thing somebody’s watching this. They want more information, obviously we’ll put your website address up on here and things like that. And again, just as a reminder, if you’re interested in the bowls, how OMA has has a great selection of products online, as well as in the store.

And I, as someone who owns a number of their bowls, uh, I can’t encourage you in enough, at least go. Learn more about them, take a tour, check things out and, uh, [00:22:00] great bowls for everything from just daily use to special occasions. And certainly I think Korey, and you can tell me if you’d agree, but if you are one of those people, that’s looking for that, that special gift for someone, again, a wedding comes to mind in the spring as we are right now.

But if you’re looking for a special gift, I, I would certainly believe that this is the, the caliber and the type of gift that is really gonna be unique. And one. That person you give it to is gonna keep most likely for their entire life. It’s not one of those things that’s gonna be re-gifted it’s not gonna end up in the closet somewhere.

This is gonna either end up as a show piece and or something that gets used almost every day. Would you agree with me on that? Oh, yes, definitely. Another one of the main things people, you know, made in America is such a big thing. Just family owned, but also typically you go to registry, it’s gonna be the normal target, the same things that brides and grooms are typically getting.

But if you give a bowl or something unique, like a unique cutting [00:23:00] board, handmade. There’s just a lot more value in that. And we hear from people all the time, they get gifted our products and they say, oh my gosh, best thing I’ve received. We use it every day. Yeah. And especially with a personal touch too.

The engraving that goes a long ways too. That’s fantastic. One other question I’ve got for you today before we wrap up is bizarre experience. So I love to ask, uh, other business leaders in their, their business. Have there been any bizarre experiences that, uh, might be unique to your business, or just bizarre in general, somebody that walked in the back door and surprised everybody or whatever it was.

Is there any bizarre experience you can think of in the time you’ve been with Holland Bowl Mill that might be of interest to the people watching or listening to the podcast? I can’t think of one. Exactly. No, no. Was OK. Kinda a one, which to me was bizarre, which in a good way is back in 2017, I got a call from one of our sales reps outta [00:24:00] California, and she said, you’re not gonna believe this.

I’m working through a company called fancy full baskets, who does the gifts for the presidents. And we got to for Christmas gift, FOLs the, at that time setting, president Trump, the Obama family, the bushes, and the Clintons custom engraved. So it’s crazy to think about in the white house, the Trump family could have been heating out of our bowls or Obama family at their house, which was, uh, kind of mind blowing to think about.

And so. What a cool experience. Oh, thanks for sharing that. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Very, very cool. Korey again, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it, and we really appreciate you and your entire team at how bull mill. And we wanna encourage everybody if you’re, haven’t been there, uh, check ’em out.

And if you have go back again and, and see all of the updated showroom and everything else, it’s well worth the visit, whether you’re in Holland or west Michigan, it’s a short drive. So thanks everyone. Thank you, [00:25:00] Korey again for your time. And, uh, everyone make it a great. Thanks Jonathan, take care.

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