Perspectives from ISB

Louis Gelder moved from Chicago to Millburg, Mich., near Benton Harbor, bought a hardware store, changed its name and started making high-end leather harnesses for wagons and buggies along with selling hardware and household products in 1910.

Business was good through the decades as Louis reacted to trends, such as adding the production of barrels for fruit packaging and shifting to tractor sales and service when the era of horse-drawn farm implements came to a close.

Subsequent generations of family members continued to keep the business thriving, manufacturing orchard sprayers in the ’30s, changing tractor brands when technology changed in the ’40s, and adding gas pumps at the store in the ’50s.

The ability to adjust to changing markets and seize opportunities are attributes that helped Louis Gelder & Sons reach its 106th year in business, being managed by the fourth generation now. Bruce and Joseph Gelder learnt good business practices along the way.


They say that during hard time, they made necessary adjustments to keep a small business moving forward — and keeping customers happy. They are always looking innovative products and technologies.


And now the fifth generation is working with other family members to keep the company moving forward. “The biggest issue in having a family business succeed into the third generation is a sophisticated skill set,” said Tom Lyons, who recently was named director of the MSU Product Center and is also a professor in the MSU Department of Agricultural Food and Resource Economics. “When the next generation takes over, you need a skill set that applies to the market; you have to diversify.

Source: Schwartz, Seth., Crain’s Detroit Business, November 13, 2016;