Association names World Trader of the Year
The West Michigan World Trade Association is honoring its 2015 World Trader of the Year.
This year’s winner, announced today, is BULMAN Products in Grand Rapids, which is owned by Ann Kirkwood-Hall.
Kirkwood-Hall will be honored during a West Michigan World Trade Association dinner next Tuesday at the Stonewater Country Club in Caledonia.
BULMAN Products will also be presented with the award at the World Trade Week Business Conference being held at the GVSU Seidman College of Business the following day.
“It is a really nice honor,” Kirkwood-Hall said. “We are joining the ranks of some pretty well-known companies.”
Past award winners have included Skytron, GNS, Steelcase, SoundOff Signal, Meijer, X-Rite and Amway.
BULMAN Products is a more than 100-year-old West Michigan business that began in a barn with $200 in capital and one product, the Gem Take-up Twine Holder.
It has since grown into a 28-person business that produces school and art supplies and industrial, retail and food packaging products.
Public export resources
The company has exported to Canada for more than 30 years, but under the leadership of Kirkwood-Hall, who purchased the business in 2012 and has been with the company since 2009, it has become much more focused on growing its exporting business.
“We’ve really used the resources the state of Michigan and the West Michigan community has to offer to help small-to-medium-sized enterprises with their exporting,” Kirkwood-Hall said.
She noted the Michigan Small Business Development Corporation helped the company focus in on the right resources to meet its exporting goals.
In addition, the company received a Michigan Economic Development Corporation State Trade Export grant, which allows it to receive up to $12,000 in reimbursements for export-related costs.
“If we have $24,000 in export expenses, they will reimburse us for $12,000 of those,” Kirkwood-Hall said.
The company has also taken advantage of the Michigan Economic Gardening program, which helps with market research and SEO research for the company’s website.
Kirkwood-Hall said the European market and countries with free trade agreements are currently in the company’s exporting sights.
“We just got our first purchase order from Singapore,” she noted.
Additionally, the company has a distributor in Venezuela and has done business in the U.K. and Australia.
A challenge the company foresees is a wary environment in Europe.
“We are noticing the Europeans are still hanging back quite a bit, because of their current economy and the high value of the dollar right now,” she said. “It’s making it a little more difficult to deal with the companies that use the Euro.”
But the company plans to push hard in Europe to gain those desired relationships.
Also new this year, BULMAN Products just launched its domestic e-commerce site and will add a global component by fall if all goes well.
“The reason we went with the e-commerce site is because we have so much interest in Europe for our products, the trouble is with getting distributors to take them, so we’re going to be adding a global aspect to our e-commerce site in the next couple of months,” she said. “We wanted to launch it domestically first.”
She said in adding an e-commerce site, the company had to navigate relationships with its current distributors to ensure it wouldn’t harm them in the process.