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Milking the market.

Milking The Market

Cows Are Gone, But Coleman Still Going Strong

More than 50 years ago, Coleman Dairy Inc. consisted of a 200-acre farm in southwest Little Rock and 200 cows. Milk still came in bottles, and door-to-door milkmen were a thing of the future, not the past.

Life may have been simpler then, but the Coleman family was not satisfied with the status quo.

Growth was the vision of H.S. "Boots" Coleman, grandson of Coleman Dairy's founder, Eleithet B. Coleman.

Boots, who bypassed a career as a football coach to join his father, W.C. Coleman, in the dairy business, expanded on family tradition.

Boots and his father installed pasteurizing equipment and, in 1946, built a new dairy plant along Asher Avenue, which was part of the original dairy farm.

At the time, Coleman had about 200 milk cows, and family members ran the dairy farm the old-fashioned way.

"When I was a youngster, going to the Little Rock public schools, my mom and dad spent their time milking cows," says Chief Executive Officer W.C. "Buddy" Coleman Jr., 62, who took over operations in 1971. "Then, when I went to college in 1946, they were still milking cows -- with some help, of course."

The Colemans could not handle the work load alone. Sales had increased to the point that the herd could not produce enough milk to satisfy demand. By 1948, Coleman had sold the cows and begun buying milk from independent producers in central Arkansas.

When Coleman merged with C.S. Douglass Dairy later that year, the combined firms were selling 2,000 gallons of milk daily.

"We never thought it would turn into this," Coleman says. "My great-grandfather was just trying to stay ahead of the Yankees when he came here in 1862 from North Carolina.

"When he started the business, it in no way resembled anything going on today."

Today, Coleman sells more than 50,000 gallons of milk per day. The company had 1990 gross revenues of $43 million.

Coleman employs about 285 people on the same grounds that Boots transformed from grazing land for his cows to a booming Arkansas industry.

Coleman consolidated with OK Dairy and Ice Cream Co. of Pine Bluff in 1964 and Dixon Dairy of Little Rock and Midwest Dairy of Little Rock in the 1970s. In 1979, the company acquired the Ouachita Valley Dairy at Camden.

Coleman ranks 50th on the Arkansas Business Top 50. It did not make last year's list.

Coleman is truly a family business.

Buddy is chairman of the board. His son, Walt, is president. Sons Bob, Charlie and Cherb also hang their hat at 5801 Asher Ave., representing fourth- and fifth-generation Colemans in the dairy business.

Eleithet Coleman began it all in 1862 by selling milk out of large containers by the dipper. He spent most of each day trekking to downtown Little Rock and back.

His son, Fred, took over when Eleithet was killed at Seventh and Scott streets from a kick in the head by one of his delivery horses.

Three Colemans later, Buddy was in charge. And business had changed.

The only cows found these days at Coleman Dairy are those on posters decorating the office walls.

High-tech is in at Coleman.

Its processing plant and laboratory are the most modern known to dairy science, according to the company's news releases.

"There have been tremendous changes," Buddy Coleman says. "I remember when University was a dirt road and Asher didn't exist. But things have changed."

At Coleman, it seems, for the better.

PHOTO : ROLLING ON: Coleman Dairy Inc. has come a long way since the days when founder Eleithet B. Coleman sold milk by the dipper in 1862. The Little Rock-based dairy sells more than 50,000 gallons of milk per day.

Kane Webb Arkansas Business Staff
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Top 50 Profiles; Coleman Dairy Inc.'s rating and market share in the milk industy
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jul 15, 1991
Previous Article:Conveying success.
Next Article:Truckin' on.

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