SoundOff Signal Top World Trader

May 14, 2007
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HUDSONVILLE — From its location in this Ottawa County town of just over 7,000 people, SoundOff Signal has launched emergency lights around the globe.

Since his arrival in 1992, Chairman and CEO George Boerigter has led the company into 16 countries, and international growth continues, said Thomas J. Palumbo, vice president of sales and marketing. SoundOff Signal manufactures emergency LED light systems, siren speakers and switches for police and fire vehicles, and warning and signal lights for school buses and commercial vehicles.

Sales in 2006 were $16.5 million, a 23 percent growth over 2005, said Palumbo, with a goal of $20 million for this year. Last year’s export sales amounted to 17 percent of the total, but in the first four months of 2007 that has jumped to 26 percent, thanks to a big order from Israel.

Now SoundOff Signal has been named 2007 World Trader of the Year by the West Michigan World Trade Association. The award was presented at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids luncheon last week.

“We wish to extend our sincere gratitude for the recognition of our company with this prestigious award,” said Palumbo, representing Boerigter who was traveling in Asia. “SoundOff Signal is living proof that small manufacturing companies can prosper and grow in Michigan.”

Since its founding in 1971, SoundOff Signal has grown to 88 employees, and just last year became one of about 11,000 Employee Stock Ownership Plan companies in the nation, he said.

“It really began with the background and persistence of our Chairman and CEO George Boerigter,” Palumbo said. Boerigter had been a general manager for a division of publisher HarperCollins and a sales and marketing vice president at several firms. He has a bachelor’s degree from Hope College and master’s degrees from the University of Southern California and Western Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Sibilla, have three grown sons.

“George is very much a global thinker and a very strategic thinker, as well,” said Palumbo, whose background includes stints at Keeler Brass and Benteler Automotive. “He really is the one who started looking at the potential marketplace and how to use resources around the world and how to market to the rest of the world.”

Palumbo rattled off a list of some of the countries where SoundOff Signal products have been sold: Russia, Israel, the Czech Republic, China, Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Canada, Mexico, South Africa and Trinidad.

“This success is being driven by new product offerings as we expand our product line to be more of a full-service supplier to police, fire and other emergency vehicles,” Palumbo said. “The second contributor to our growth is the continued expansion of sales into foreign markets.”

The explosion in international business for the mid-size firm has prompted some changes in the way the company operates, Palumbo added. For example, products must be designed to work with several electrical voltage standards to accommodate standards in multiple nations.

“It has helped us to understand, from a manufacturing perspective, where our costs need to be, to be globally competitive.

“We spend time researching the market, maybe working with a potential distributor in that market, as well as trade shows, to better understand the nuances of the market, then modifying our products to fit the needs of that market.”

Palumbo said about 65 percent of the company’s manufacturing occurs in Hudsonville, while the rest may be finished or assembled in the target country, which can satisfy local regulations. In Hudsonville, the company designs, develops and produces its own printed circuit boards, Palumbo said.

“I came from a $4 billion organization that had 50 plants around the world,” he added. “This is a much smaller organization, but still has a global reach. Imagine this: a small Hudsonville-based manufacturing company having a photo opportunity with Russian secret police using our products on their vehicles.”    

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