Leppink’s Food Centers of West Michigan and the Grand Rapids-headquartered Star Truck Rentals are the 2016 Al Kessel Outstanding Achievement Award winners, the Michigan Grocers Association (MGA) said this week.
“The awards honor former MGA Director Al Kessel, who passed away in 2012,” said MGA President and CEO Linda M. Gobler. “Al was the founder of Kessel Food Markets, which served Michigan’s Flint, Saginaw, Bay City and Corunna until 2000. To reflect his generous spirit, the awards recognize the achievements of one outstanding retailer and one outstanding business partner. Winners were selected by a 12-member MGA committee.”
The 2016 Outstanding Retailer, Leppink’s Food Centers, is a fourth-generation, family-owned and -operated company with five Michigan grocery store locations in Belding, Howard City, Lakeview, Spring Lake and Stanton. Celebrating 88 years in business, John Leppink and brother-in-law Rich Cole own three locations, and cousin Ransom Leppink owns the other two locations. Leppink’s Food Centers started in 1928 when John and Ransom’s grandfather, John Leppink, opened “John Leppinks Quality Cash Market” in Belding.
Rather than create a cookie-cutter approach to business, each store is different by design so it can be a true neighborhood market where people come to buy high-quality food at competitive prices. The stores are big enough to offer great, low prices and small enough to provide convenience and outstanding service, according to MGA. Three of the stores have pharmacies owned and operated under the Leppink’s Pharmacy banner. In addition, more than 20 years ago, Leppink’s opened the first ground-up Save-A-Lot Michigan store in Holland, and it now operates 11 Save-A-Lot stores and a Do it Best hardware store called North Bank Hardware.
MGA says that each store is an important part of the local community providing support and service. Leppink’s Food Centers are connected to the community in so many ways it is difficult to name them all, but a few ways the company gives back include sponsoring Gus Macker basketball tournaments, participating in the labels for education program and donating food or space for high school events, service clubs and churches.
Leppink’s was nominated by both MGA associate member H.T. Hackney and MGA member SpartanNash, in part, because the family demonstrates “true passion for the grocery industry, servant leadership, a climate for employee longevity, trustworthiness and more.”
The 2016 Outstanding Business Partner, Star Truck Rentals, is celebrating 150 years of business. Originally organized as Star Baggage Co., there really was a Mr. Star in the 1860s for whom the company was named, but not much is known about him. In 1916, brothers Harry, Peter and Andy Bylenga purchased the company with money borrowed from their mother. Then brothers Ed and Connie became involved, making it a true family affair. Today, five generations of the Bylenga family take part in running the company with William Bylenga serving as CEO, Tom Bylenga as president and David Bylenga as VP.
What now is a 17-branch-office operation began with several horses and wagons engaged in the hauling of baggage to and from the train depot. Today, Star is principally engaged in the long-term lease and short-term rental of light- and heavy-duty over-the-road trucks, as well as general truck repair and fleet maintenance. Star has been affiliated with the National Truck Leasing System for 30 years and is the oldest Michigan member. The company recently was honored by the American Truck Historical Society in recognition for its years of service to the trucking industry.
Nominated by MGA associate member Lipari Foods of Warren, Michigan, Star enjoys a business relationship with many MGA members, including Arctic Glacier, Cherry Capital Foods, Country Fresh/Dean Foods, H.T. Hackney, Lipari Foods, Mondelez International, Prairie Farms and Superior Foods. In addition, Star gives back to the community in many ways, including by providing truck donations for the Family Promise homeless shelter, Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts and the Traverse City Cherry Festival along with providing financial donations to Feeding America, Michigan Colleges Foundation, Rotaries Foundation and numerous other organizations.
“Both the Leppink and the Star Truck families have made significant contributions to Michigan’s food industry,” said Gobler. “They are active in the association and have earned the respect and admiration of colleagues and customers throughout the state and beyond. The awards are well-deserved recognition.”
The awards will be presented at the MGA Fall Conference on Sept. 18 at Boyne Highlands Resort in Michigan.