Business 1.0 May/June 2020

August 11th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

Spilt Milk, Squandered Opportunity

By Lyle R. Hill

My first recollections of life are from the tattered wooden framed house on the corner of Thirteenth Street and St. Charles Road in Maywood, Ill. It was right across the street from the truck docks of the American Can company where my father, Lyle Alvin, and my aunts and uncles worked. It was also a block south of the Maywood Glass and Mirror Company where one of my mother’s cousins ran the office. My brother and I made regular visits to the glass company where we could get suckers and bubble gum from Cousin Edith. Sometimes she’d let us watch the men who worked there cut glass—exciting stuff for a kid of that era.

Chasing the American Dream

Lyle Alvin very much wanted to live the American Dream—a car, a house and yard he could call his own. But that dream required money. So when he wasn’t making tin cans he pumped gas at the Refiner’s Pride service station on Lake Street in Melrose Park, Ill.

But then a dairy company in Franklin Park, Ill., was expanding and after my Dad had met with the owners, Sam and Howard Dean, he decided they were, as Lyle Alvin used to put it, “the right kind of boys to work for.” They also offered better pay and more hours. The company, Deans Dairy, grew and Lyle Alvin grew with it. He became a foreman in the warehouse and then the general foreman of the entire facility. Although not well educated, he read people well and was liked by all. He took great delight in letting his children know whenever the Dean boys came to him for advice or to help them solve a problem. And he got his house. I remember that day well. I also remember the union meetings that took place in the dining room there. I would sit under the table or as close to it as I dared and listen to the men who talked about the issues of their day and how they planned to push for the things important to them. For several years, Lyle Alvin was their leader. He was very loyal to his employer, but he believed the hourly workers needed representation. He was their voice.

Lyle Alvin loved his job and was incredibly proud of the company he worked for. He also liked and admired the Deans and their families. He liked to say that “I always gave them their money’s worth” and I have no doubt he did. His last union pin is pictured on this page. I kept it after he retired. I see it every day when I sit down at my computer.

Failure to Adapt

Several months ago, the headline in a suburban Chicago newspaper brought sadness to me. It stated … “America’s Largest Milk Producer Files for Bankruptcy.” It was about Deans Dairy. Dairy product sales had declined for the fourth straight year. Milk alternatives were everywhere and estimated to grow 500% in the next few years as people switch to plant-based products
and away from cow’s milk. Also, the company’s biggest customer, Walmart, dropped them last year when they started their own dairy.

Energy drink manufacturers, beer producers and other beverage suppliers have all been introducing new products, changing their product offerings and, in some cases, buying companies that offer different products in an attempt to deal with their changing market. Deans did not adapt. The business section in a recent Chicago Tribune had a front page article of a similar nature. The story told of the Bakers Square bankruptcy that involves more store closings. These people make the best pies in the world but, in my opinion, operated their units like they did 30 years ago.

Lyle Alvin was the king of all things cliché. He used to regularly say that “the only constant is change” and “nothing stays the same forever.” He was a pretty good baseball pitcher in his younger years and one of his other favorite sayings was the “hardest pitch to hit is the change-up.” He was right. Maybe the real question is, “how many swings do you have left?”

Lyle R. Hill is the former owner of a window film company in the Midwest. He also serves as president of Glass.com, an information portal and job generation company for the glass industry. Hill has more than 40 years of experience in glass-related industries and can be reached at lhill@glass.com

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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