A shared business philosophy, a commitment to communication and a sense of humor are just some of the keys to how this husband and wife navigate their shared company as a couple.
Kurt and Valerie Loudenback own Grand Prairie Foods, a national provider of food products to the hospitality industry that has grown to more than 200 employees in Sioux Falls.
Their business was the tour stop Nov. 21 for the Prairie Family Business Association’s annual Boyd Hopkins Excellence in Family Business Award and Legacy Tour.
We caught up with the Loudenbacks for a look at their company and how they balance business and family.
What will Prairie Family Business Association members experience when they tour Grand Prairie Foods?
Kurt: They will see a group of people dedicated to producing great food for customers all over the United States and Canada. They will see a professional management team that is focused on producing high-quality, safe food.
Valerie: And they will be right in the middle of a real-life food manufacturing facility! They will be in the sandwich factory – we have two factories in town – and will walk through the entire process from start to finish of a product in our plant.
You have toured many groups through the business. What are some of the common reactions and surprises?
Kurt: They are surprised at the diversity of products we produce. They are also are impressed by the bright, clean look. An additional “wow” is the fact that these items produced in Sioux Falls are distributed to all 50 states. And they are extremely intrigued by our co-extrusion equipment that spits out millions of stuffed biscuits, calzones and other enrobed products.
Valerie: People say, “Wow – I did not know you guys were here! That is amazing – I never knew that is how things were made. That smells good; I am getting hungry.” We are proud to show off our great team members. They are excited to explain what they are doing and are always ready with big smiles.
You’re also a family business in that you run the business together. What are some strategies you’ve found for balancing work and home?
Valerie: We try to follow the rule that “work is at work” and “home is at home.” We’re pretty good about following that rule, but we’re not always successful. Our latest effort at separation is to end the week with a Friday “happy hour” that allows us to download the problems from the week over a drink so we can transition into the weekend and enjoy it.
Kurt and I are both very driven individuals with strong opinions who also like to talk a lot! We can do some amazing work as a team, and we highly respect each other’s intellect and work ethic. We do clash at times and argue. Let’s be honest – owning your own business is a lot of responsibility and at times brings levels of stress. I keep trying to get Kurt to relax and watch the Hallmark Channel with me for fun at home, but he refuses – says he knows how they are all going to end!
We each have an interest in exercise, specifically biking. Kurt like to log up to 2,500 miles on the bike path, and I lead indoor biking classes each week. In bad weather, he comes to my class where I get to be the boss! We find it is good to spend time apart from each other and with friends but also find things outside of work that bring us distraction and pleasure: traveling, gardening and walking the dogs!
Your business has done an exceptional job of working with new Americans. Are there some approaches you think could carry over for other businesses, regardless of their industry?
Kurt: We find the best way to engage new Americans is to treat them like old Americans. We care for our employees and treat them as extended members of our family. Neither race nor ethnicity matter to us.
Valerie: When I read Kurt’s comments, it makes me so proud! He and I truly believe in the core of our being that we are privileged to have created a company that provides an opportunity to all our 220 employees to earn a living and grow in our community. We have high admiration for our many team members who have endured much to come to this country. I think it can easily be boiled down to a statement from this year’s chamber dinner speaker: “I want to see the me in you, so you can see the you in me.”
We learn their names, try to learn some of their language. Be open-minded about learning about their countries and cultures. Provide them kindness and generosity in whatever way we can to support all our team members so they can achieve a good, happy life as they define it.
Celebrate the wonderful blessings of life – new babies, new homes, citizenship, recovery from illness – and the sad parts – family loss, missing their families so far away and personal challenges they may be working to overcome.
Valerie, you also are helping bring the group Women Lead Change to the Sioux Falls area. Are there opportunities for female leaders in female businesses to become involved with that group?
Valerie: I am passionate about bringing programs to our community that can enrich the lives of women. After founding Dress for Success Sioux Falls, I was confident that I could, and should, keep looking for what other resources need to be here for women. Women Lead Change, WLC, has a rich, successful history in Iowa, and it is exciting to see it begin an affiliate here in the Sioux Empire. WLC is dedicated to the development, advancement and promotion of women, their organizations and to impacting the regional economy.
WLC connects women through networking, mentoring and professional development. This organization engages women in the Sioux Empire by leveraging resources, sharing best practices and providing professional development opportunities.
If people would like to learn more, they can contact me directly, and I will be happy to sit down and share what WLC will be offering to them and their company.
More information can also be found on their website.
What’s next for Grand Prairie Foods? What are you focused on for 2020 and beyond?
Both: We are engaged with several new customer opportunities that we expect to result in future products, personnel and even plants. 2020 will bring some of those opportunities to reality, and we intend to keep our focus on our brand promise: “We Make It Easy for Our Customers to Enjoy Great Food.” That philosophy has served us well with some blue-chip customers over the years and afforded Grand Prairie Foods the reputation of being a company people can expect excellent performance from.