Saturday, March 13, 2010

Not All 100-Year Companies are Dinosaurs

DeWitt Barrels is a 117-year-old company that just won the Michigan Family-Owned Business of the Year award. In the Grand Rapids Press article announcing the award, president Peter DeWitt (whose great-great-grandfather started the business) says "We looked forward to see trends and adapted and made changes to meet demands.....We wouldn't make it if we stayed the same." DeWitt Barrels has never made barrels - it reconditions them for re-use. Today that mostly means cleaning 55-gallon steel drums for oil and chemical companies rather than wooden barrels.

Though their business has changed over the years, how they run it has not. "There are no shortcuts," says Peter DeWitt. "You follow all the rules, even if it's expensive or you have to work more." This particularly comes into play in the area of environmental care: the company has been a state-designated Clean Corporate Citizen since 1999.

Businesses overall are using barrels less often and the DeWitts have watched many other re-conditioners leave the industry. But Peter DeWitt is confident the company will adapt again and last another generation. "Our father gave the company to us [Peter runs the company with two of his brothers] with the same mandate he had - to build it, take care of it and pass it on. When we pass it on to Jason [Peter's son, who is currently the plant manager] it needs to be in a situation for him to make it grow."

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