Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer -3

Hello, my name is Fred...and the most precious ingredient to his being successful in life was his wife, Lena Rader Meijer. She daily gave him the encouragement and inspiration to believe he could do anything and he succeeded in building his own empire of thrifty shopping for us. He shot for the moon and struck it. His dreams created many starlets of satisfaction... and they did it together and were rewarded with children who have kept the corporate giant soaring to save money for its customers. Fred found his own niche in life and his children kept the faith and stayed in dad's growing business. You don't become successful without passion, vision and expertise.

Business owners take lots of risks with investments, but Fred invested in people, all 66,000. It takes skill to keep them all employed, but I can remember when in the mid 1960's his business fell sharply downward and had to downsize stores. Several of my friends lost their jobs working. Never had they thought they'd be on the unemployment lines. Business owners need to make profits to stay in business. No business owner likes to put their trusted employees in the receiving line at an employment agency. When businesses begin to slow, the boss must find ways to stay afloat. To do nothing means when sales don't exceed expenditures means many will lose their jobs. Fred had lots to think and worry about when things weren't going the way he planned. Hiring and firing people takes guts and it makes for many sleepless nights.

Fred became one of the world's 150 richest through hard work and his investments in life. He and Lena lived an unassuming life in a 1957 home they built and never left it. They gave of themselves to the less fortunate, which over time made a drastic difference in the outcomes of lives they never met, while giving them the opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest. Together they stayed humble, and yet, they helped others achieve greater things for humanity. To meet them you'd never know him and Lena were the 13th richest in America and his friends Rich Devos and Jay Van Andel were the 28th richest. All were tireless dynamos - the driving force behind their corporate successes that rose from where many in America strive to accomplish today. They started at the bottom of the ladder and each step up brought new challenges they had to overcome. It takes lots of hard work - flying by the seat of your pants when making investment risks. You do a lot of listening to friends and associates. You have to be flexible when challenged.

Fred was the byproduct of his father Hendrik, a Dutch immigrant. Hendrik set the bar for Fred when in the Depression Years (1934) his father opened his first grocery store in Greenville. He mentored and shaped young Fred on how to treat customers, with respect and dignity, not just in good times, but in the worst. He taught his enterprising son who had dreams beyond his own understanding to share what they had with the less fortunate, but the job was to keep your own head above water while you help others. Those depression years were worse than the financial boondoggle we find ourselves in today. Back then you really had to scratch out your own existence to put food on the table.

My own father, Russell Geldhof, a Dutch/German, too, met Fred shortly after he (dad) returned from World War II in 1946. My father was building his greenhouses and raising annuals and vegetable plants and to me that Fred appeared one day to buy plants and said, "Fred needed more to learn about loyalty to customers." In the late 1950's Fred bought the old Helm's factory on Plainfield Avenue in Plainfield Township. He converted the factory into a Meijer Thrifty Acres store. It wasn't long before Fred made another appearance at dad's greenhouses and attempted to not buy his own plants, but dad's entire production. Dad's operation was strictly retail, however, dad did donate (free) his Petunias to St. Jude's Catholic Church on Four Mile until dad's death in 1978.

Dad's retail operation wasn't large enough to handle the extra volume of plant material at discount wholesale pricing. Selling to a volume buyer meant longer work hours, less profit margins for dad who was already 25 years older than Fred. My dad believed a good businessman could increase sales with his personal gift of gab and delivering more products than what customers purchased. Nobody left dad's greenhouses without extra Cherry tomato plants or specialty flowers. Even when the Meijer Thrifty Acres began selling plants at reduced pricing dad's customers remained loyal and returned year after year including Rich Devos and Jay Van Andel. Dad mentored all three in the art of generosity. Dad was 20-30 years older than all three, but they garnered bits and pieces of his mind and the extra fruits of dad's labor.

One thing my dad never dreamed about was being rich, but his dream was that somebody with money would help build a Botanical Garden in Grand Rapids. The mini-orchid room inside John Ball Park in Grand Rapids was pitiful in the 1960's, but it was better than none. Dad loved the beauty of flowers and that's why his moonlight operation (hobby gone wild) was his third love, just like Lena was Fred's third or second. It's a good thing Lena stood beside her man otherwise Fred's love affair with sculptures would never have happened. I've often wondered if she liked playing his sculpture fiddle. My mom supported dad in all his endeavors, and she worked hard as a housewife, helpmate, lover, partner, etc.

What was my father's first love. Jesus Christ and he kept the faith in his savior till his death in a tragic car accident in 1978 near Lakeview. He spent all day in Mt. Pleasant, but spent most of day studying not flowers, but the brilliance of the blue sky. We wondered if he had a premonition of death. My mother and two children were the loves of his life on earth, but his last love was flower production and everything else with beautiful flowers.

As a teenager growing up in dad's business I was dragged to the Chicago Botanical Gardens every other year or to Ball field trials or Yoder Chrysanthemum field trials where I gradually learned to appreciate the beauty of all things beautiful. Dad would always tell me the secret to life is be happy with whatever you do, but don't feel you have to love everything botanical as much as I. In fact, on occasions when things were going wrong, he said, "Preferably don't think you have to stay in this profession, and in fact. I'd rather you chase your own dreams." I drifted away a few years, but flowers and tropical plants grew on me like fungus and moss. Thrifty Acres was Fred's fungus and moss. I've had dirt beneath my fingernails for 51 years and my wife Lucy knows how rough my hands still get. "Don't touch me! Your hands are like sandpaper."

Wives go where husbands go and they get the satisfaction to know they did it together - rising to the top and going farther than their wildest dreams. Three more segments to go. Got a dream - catch your dream, don't wait till life pushes beyond your physical endurance. Fred didn't stop until...

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