Hornets are not exactly known for their modesty.
But ask Jeff LaChance what has allowed his company, Hornet Concrete, of South Lyon, Mich., to celebrate its 50th year of business this year, and you'll get nothing but humility.
"We're quality-oriented," LaChance says. "We're still a small shop. We haven't gotten too big over the years to (not) give you a hometown feeling."
With just six full-time employees, LaChance has kept his business to scale to meet demand of South Lyon, population 11,327.
When everyone knows your name, business comes easy.
That is what his father, Leonard, learned when he bought the company in 1960 when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. The elder LaChance took over the then debt-saddled producer after saving money earned from a decade of working construction jobs.
More importantly, he had built up contacts.
"He was friends with most of the local builders," Jeff LaChance says. "South Lyon was a small, growing community. He was just working with local builders and homeowners to establish (clients). Things grew steadily over the years."
It hasn't hurt that South Lyon and surrounding Oakland County have maintained steady growth in the face of the economic slowdown. The city has an average median income of about $67,000, compared with $64,000 for the state, and South Lyon boasts a diverse manufacturing base that is not dependent on the auto industry.
Easy access to major cities, Detroit is 40 miles southeast, Ann Arbor 20 miles south, has turned the town into a thriving bedroom community with good schools. LaChance estimates about a dozen residential developments in the area are still expanding.
The recession hit Hornet, but not nearly as hard as others. LaChance replaced two trucks in 2010 in anticipation of a sustained recovery that did not materialize, but revenue has nonetheless stabilized. They've aggressively expanded their customer base to include smaller owners, he says, although the trucks are not always full. Hornet is not volume-oriented anyway, he added. The Hornet name is derived from the original truck barrels, which were painted black with yellow stripes.
Just before the recession someone made a substantial bid for Hornet Concrete, but Jeff LaChance says he wasn't nearly ready to retire. It still creeps into his mind, he said, but there have been few good offers lately.
Leonard LaChance, who turns 82 in November, still helps around the office. His son says his father still occasionally drives the gravel train.
"We're tenacious," Jeff LaChance says, some of the modesty finally falling aside. "When other companies have come and gone around us, we're still plugging away here."
Rob Wile is the Commercial Group Editorial Intern.
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