Van Andel Global Trade Center

Bulman Products expands through global markets...

Date: June 25, 2014

Written by  John Wiegand

Given stagnant domestic growth, one West Michigan manufacturer plans to capitalize on export incentive programs as it looks to increase its business in the European market.

When Bulman Products Inc. President Ann Kirkwood-Hall joined the company in 2009, the manufacturer had fallen on difficult times as sales slumped 25 percent from previous years. But Kirkwood-Hall saw the downturn as a unique opportunity to learn the business from her employees and outline a growth strategy, so she decided to make the best of it.

“The recession is never good, but sometimes you have to look at the positive in things when your sales go down that much,” Kirkwood-Hall said. “People weren’t as busy, but we kept everyone, so I had a lot of people who had the time to help me learn the business.”

The Grand Rapids-based company manufactures cutters and racks designed to cut materials ranging from butcher paper to bubblewrap. Bulman Products started in 1906 as a single-product company and grew its line to approximately 30 products today. The company’s largest customers include the school and arts supply industry along with retail and industrial packaging.

Bulman Products conducts approximately 95 percent of its business in the United States. The rest of the company’s sales are spread across a few small distributors in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, Kirkwood-Hall said.

The manufacturer generated $3.5 million in sales last year and is growing approximately 3 percent annually, she said. The company has outpaced its domestic market and hopes to expand its distributor base into European markets to meet increasing inquiries about its products, Kirkwood-Hall told MiBiz.

To execute on that global vision, Kirkwood-Hall leveraged Michigan’s ample resources for companies looking for help with exporting. Bulman Products currently works with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), Van Andel Global Trade Center and the Michigan Small Business Development Center (MI-SBDC) to access opportunities for international expansion.

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