How did RepcoLite get its name?

Jacob Rezelman was an experimenter.

He was born in 1907 in a family of artists. In 1938, when he was 31 years old, he worked in the Holland Aniline Dye laboratory. In the evenings, he mixed paint in the basement of his chicken coop near the corner of Columbia Avenue and 32nd Street.

To do this, he carried heavy bags of raw materials down the stairs where he mixed his recipe. He then carried the finished paint out of the basement before returning to clean the machines.

In 1945, Rezelman worked for the Donnelly-Kelley Glass Company and moved to Virginia Park. But his moonlit paint-mixing business grew. By 1952, he quit his day job, named his side business Rezelman Paint Manufacturing Company, created a brand (Dutch Mill Paints), moved his business to the northeast corner of Homestead Avenue and 17th Street (once a gas station), and found a business partner, Ben Altena.

Before working with Jacob, Ben owned and operated the Washington Square Barber Shop at 451 Washington Ave. As Ben said, he joined Jacob because he was “tired of standing in one place all the time.”

From that point on, Jacob and Ben were very busy. They produced paint during the day and delivered it door-to-door at night, loading it on a truck and driving it to the homes of painters, who ordered paint each day and colored it on site by mixing naturally occurring mineral pigments.

For example, they painted the barns red because iron oxide or rust was a cheap mineral color to add to the paint. Then, with the invention of water-based paints and “synthetic paints,” the color-mixing step moved to stores, making choosing and creating paint colors more convenient for the DIY consumer market. To serve this market, Jacob and Ben began retailing in addition to wholesaling.

Jacob and Ben’s partnership lasted until the early 1950s, when health reasons forced Jake and his wife to move to a less humid climate. Ben gradually bought out Jacob’s share and renamed the company Dutch Mill Paints. But Jacob didn’t leave the industry. After moving to Arizona, he worked for the next 25 years as manager of the New Mexico Paint Company in Albuquerque.

Back in Holland, Ben found a new partner, Fred VerSchuer. While the business survived a fire in 1952, it may not have survived a lawsuit. Unbeknownst to Ben and Fred, a larger, better capitalized business had previously trademarked Dutch Boy Paints. So, Ben decides to create a new brand for the paint he produces.

He did so by abbreviating Rezelman Paint Company to “Repco” and attaching the word “Lite” to it, which sounded “modern” and in the popular vernacular at the time. Ben later also changed the name of the company to RepcoLite. Ben’s son, Dave, became an employee of the business in the mid-1960s. In 1967, RepcoLite opened a second store in North Holland, and in 1975, a store in Jenison.

However, over the years, RepcoLite’s business focus has remained constant. Although it specializes in custom paints to service commercial painters and industry, including architectural painting (eg decks and walls) and industrial coatings (eg machinery and furniture), it is primarily a retail company, with two-thirds of its employees working in that side of the business.

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When Ben retired in 1976, Fred became president, Dave remained secretary-treasurer, and Don Plazman became vice president. Dave became president in 1980. By 2005, RepcoLite had five wholesale and retail stores.

In 2007, RepcoLite purchased Snyder Paints of Goshen, Indiana, and Port City Paints of Muskegon. Also started wearing Benjamin Moore’s paints. By 2011, RepcoLite had seven locations in Michigan and Indiana.

Since then, stores have been added in Kalamazoo, Byron Center and on Fulton Street near downtown Grand Rapids. In 2023, RepcoLite purchased Teknicolor Paints of Metro Detroit. The company now has 135 employees, 30 of whom work in the Netherlands.

Information for this story comes from Robert Swearenga’s “Holland, Michigan,” an obituary for Jacob Rezelman, the RepcoLite website, Holland City Directories, and correspondence with RepcoLite’s Dan Hansen and Dan Altena.

— Steve VanderVeen is a resident of the Netherlands. He can be reached at [email protected]. His book, The First Entrepreneurs of the Holland Area, is available at Reader’s World.

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