Fences Open New Opportunities

September 16, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Dan Hickey didn’t plan on being fenced in by a job he loves; he planned to prepare kids to enter jobs they loved.

Hickey, president of Fence Consultants and DAC Industries Inc., originally set out to be a teacher upon graduation from Central Michigan University. A few things happened along the way, however, and the family business drew him in.

Hickey’s father and grandfather owned Ace Hardware in Wyoming where Hickey worked installing fences during his high school years. During his senior year at CMU, Hickey was drafted into the Army and stationed in Germany. Upon returning to Michigan he began teaching math at Catholic Central High School.

Three years later he was let go during cutbacks at the school. But during those three years he spent teaching, he also spent summers building fences. So when the cut came, Hickey stepped out of the teaching profession and into business with his father and grandfather.

“I was offered a position in sales at Ace,” said Hickey. “I decided to go for it and stayed there for four to five years.”

While attending a trade show, he and a friend, Cal Kooistra, were intrigued by a gate latch manufactured by a man in California. While that business wasn’t particularly successful, Hickey and Kooistra decided to buy the patent and try to make a go of it themselves.

“Cal and I were both at Ace Hardware when we purchased the patent and started DAC (an acronym for Dan and Cal) Industries,” said Hickey. “From there the business began to grow and I left Ace to concentrate on the business.”

Three years later Kooistra joined Hickey and the two continued to grow DAC into a successful business. Today, Kooistra is still with the company as the head of light industrial/commercial sales and deals with customers on a face-to-face basis.

While the gate latch business grew, so did customer interest in fences.

“People would still call to see if we could do fence construction,” Hickey said, “And from there Fence Consultants was born.”

The companies are independent of one another but in many ways feed off of each other. DAC distributes nationally while Fence Consultants stays local, focusing on West Michigan.

The companies focus on both commercial and residential work and offer chain link, vinyl-coated chain link, plastic PVC, ornamental fence and electric gate operators.

And the business continues to grow at a steady pace, which is something Hickey is comfortable with.

“We want to continue to grow, of course, but it must be at a reasonable and manageable pace,” said Hickey. “That way we can make sure to focus on the relationships we develop with our customers.”

And in keeping with good customer relationships, Hickey has made a strong effort to make sure Fence Consultants is not just a business, but an active force in the community.

The firm was part of last year’s Hammer Out Hunger project, a house-building project that benefited God’s Kitchen. The firm also takes part in Community Repair Day, which counts on local businesses to complete various construction projects for needy people.

Personally, Hickey keeps up on community events and roots for the local minor league sports teams. But he also likes to get outside of the community, and Michigan, as he and his wife Diane did this past summer when they popped the top on their Mustang convertible and took a drive along Route 66. That sense of adventure and freedom is something Hickey says he has enjoyed throughout life.

“That is probably the best part of my job, being able to get out from behind the desk,” said Hickey. “And I get to do something different every day. That is what makes my job enjoyable.”           

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