Deal Was Too Sweet To Pass Up

June 6, 2003
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HOLLAND — He’s particularly partial to Deer Traxx, although the Mackinac Island Fudge is “awfully good,” too. His wife prefers butter pecan.

Whatever the flavor that delights his taste buds, Lou Kincaid now has plenty of ice cream at his ready disposal. Kincaid, a former automotive executive who spent 13 years with the former Prince Corp. in Holland, is the new president of the Hudsonville Creamery and Ice Cream Co.

The Landmark Group, a Holland-based holding company that acquires and runs “unique and different” companies, acquired the 77-year-old ice cream maker May 29. Kincaid, who works in the Landmark Group’s acquisitions operations analyzing potential buyouts, was appointed president.

“I used to make ice cream as a kid,” Kincaid joked last week as he talked about making the move from the automotive industry to running an ice cream company.

Yet beyond the humor and novelty is a business that’s as serious as any other. And once you know how to run a business, you can adapt those skills into most any sector and product category, Kincaid said.

“Business is business from the standpoint of knowing how to make money. And I came from companies that knew how to make money. The things you learn are the fundamentals,” said Kincaid, who worked in product and business development at Prince Corp. and then at Johnson Controls Inc., which bought Prince in 1996.

Kincaid, who joined Prince after 20 years with the former Chrysler Corp., retired from Johnson Controls in late 2000 as group vice president for products and business development in the Automotive Systems Group. He joined the Landmark Group in 2001.

In Hudsonville Ice Cream, the Landmark Group saw a company that fit with its mission of buying manufacturing and service-oriented companies in West Michigan that offer a unique product, then growing the businesses over the long term.

The immediate goal for Hudsonville Ice Cream is to expand the product well beyond its core West Michigan market, Kincaid said.

Hudsonville Ice Cream is sold primarily in West Michigan at grocery stores (Meijer, D&W and Spartan among them), convenience stores and ice cream shops, with a small penetration into markets in southeast Michigan. In this case, Kincaid believes the product Hudsonville produces will speak for itself.

“Ice cream is a treat; everybody likes it. It’s a pretty easy thing to fall in love with,” he said. “We have a strong product presence and a strong brand.”

Founded in 1926 in Burnips, in north-central Allegan County, Hudsonville Ice Cream presently has sales of less than $10 million and a work force of abut 20 people. The company still uses virtually the same ice cream recipe today as it did decades ago and buys supplies locally, including milk from dairy farmers no more than 15 miles away from the plant.

The Landmark Group began considering the acquisition after connecting with Hudsonville Ice Cream’s previous owners — brothers Rich, Dell and Phil Hoezee — through acquaintances.

When the Hoezee family decided to sell the company, they wanted to make sure the new owner would retain local production and continue using the same recipe. In the Landmark Group, they found a buyer that was receptive to their wishes.

“It was important to my brothers and me that the new owners feel just as strongly about preserving the quality of our ice cream and keeping the company in West Michigan as we do,” said Dell Hoezee, Hudsonville Ice Cream’s past president who will remain with the company as a consultant. “The Landmark Group is committed to keeping the same recipe, and the company and all the jobs will be staying in West Michigan.”

Though the plan for expanding the brand continues, one focus is to leverage existing business arrangements with Meijer and Spartan Stores to grow sales at existing retailers and penetrate other markets across Michigan and beyond, Kincaid said.               

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