As he celebrates his 30and anniversary, Tulmar looks to a bright future in the airline industry, after two years of pandemic-related challenges.
Founded in April 1992, the Hawkesbury-based company – which designs, manufactures and distributes technical protective textiles, survival and safety solutions for the aerospace, defense and public safety industries – signed a record number of new customers last month. Adding new, smaller airlines to its core commercial carrier business has helped the company weather the COVID-19 storm over the past two years and allowed Tulmar to diversify its customer base as orders rebound large companies.
“We have added an incredible number of new customers,” rejoices Patrick Tallon, president and minority shareholder of Tulmar. “We have worked very hard to get business from smaller operators.”
Prior to March 2020, 40% of Tulmar’s business came from commercial aviation, with 90% of contracts coming from a small group of commercial airlines, including Air Canada, Westjet, United and Porter Airlines. While the company’s military contracts – which account for the majority of 60% of business – remained flat, orders from commercial carriers came to a screeching halt at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 as airlines grounded their planes due to travel restrictions.
“It’s almost like in an instant that business dried up,” recalls the president of Tulmar. “We stopped making seat belts, we stopped making life jackets, we stopped making rafts.”
“If there are no passengers, there is no need to fasten seat belts, there is no need for life jackets.”
With its military contracts providing a base to maintain work at the 60,000-square-foot Tulmar factory and 90 employees, the company set out to find new customers, recruiting work from private jet operators and airlines. resource companies that used small aircraft to maintain operations in northern Canada. . Tallon admits it’s hard to replace big airline operations with multiple smaller companies, but the extra work has helped minimize layoffs and given the company an extra customer base that stays steady even when orders from big airlines are coming back.
“The good news is when the big players come back and we have this diverse mix of smaller customers, I think we’re going to take off,” enthuses Tallon, describing some of the multiple orders the company has received so far. now in 2022.
Air carriers must have their life jackets and other safety equipment serviced at regular intervals, which secures Tulmar’s future work.
“We have great customer services, we have a fantastic team, so we’re very confident that now that we’ve acquired these customers, we’ll keep them,” Tallon says.
Tulmar CEO and majority shareholder Barney Bangs – who has been with the company since its inception and remains heavily involved in the business – has served as a guide during the pandemic. Ups and downs have always existed in the airline industry and Bangs’ experience brings leadership and stability to the organization.
“Barney has been here from the start and he always reminds us that we’ve been here before,” Tallon says of the company’s CEO, who focuses on the strategic side of the business while Tallon manages day-to-day operations. . “We talk first thing every morning and talk about everything from our orders to the Montreal Canadiens (both are Canadiens fans).”
Tallon joined the company in May 2019, moving with his wife from Toronto to L’Orignal.
“As someone who just moved from downtown Toronto just three years ago, I can tell you that my wife and I love this area,” says Tallon, noting that the Bangs company CEO has also a strong attachment to the region.
Tulmar’s future is secure in Hawkesbury, Tallon says, citing the company’s excellent workforce as a major factor in the continued expansion of its manufacturing plant in the municipality. The plant upgrade includes equipment ranging from computerized cutting tables, quilting machines and radio frequency welding and heat sealing equipment, to highly sophisticated testing and certification equipment, including test chambers at low temperature, inertia coil testing equipment and computerized measuring and testing equipment for quality inspection.
“We have an incredible team,” the president of Tulmar proudly says of the company’s focus on employees, customers and shareholder returns. “We have a fantastic workforce throughout the plant and a strong management team.”
Tulmar’s military and defense contracts, which have become a disproportionate share of its revenue over the past two years, are also taking off, with the company receiving a very large order from its biggest customer General Dynamics this month. General Dynamics also won the contract for replacement light armored vehicles for the Canadian Army and Tulmar is heavily involved in the project.
Although optimistic about the year ahead, Tallon says the company’s management team remains cautious about the long-term effects of the pandemic on business.
“We thought things were looking up last November, but the darkest days for us were in January,” he observes. “While I’m bullish today, I’m concerned about things like inflation, raw material cost and diesel cost.”
With fuel prices continuing to rise, shipping prices have more than doubled over the past two years. Supply chain issues are also a concern, as Tulmar’s major defense contracts require military-specification parts, which are often sourced from a single supplier.
“A lot of the stuff we make can’t be bought (the materials) anywhere else,” Tallon says.
As part of its 30and anniversary, Tulmar held small celebrations, including a recognition ceremony two weeks ago for 30 longtime employees – three who have worked with the company since its inception.
The company is also celebrating the introduction of the AS9100 Quality Management System, a key achievement for its aerospace and defense business. Tulmar obtained its AS9100 certification in December 2021.
Going forward, Tulmar is developing the company’s own products, rather than relying on contract manufacturing, including the launch of two tactical life jackets this spring. Prototype work has also been completed on an anti-theft device for use on autonomous military vehicles – with a company representative traveling to Fort Benning, Georgia this month to demonstrate it to the US military.
“We can find unique products and turn them into solutions,” Tallon says of Tulmar’s innovations. “Our customers rely on us for these difficult items.”
Tulmar is currently recruiting. More information can be found on the Tulmar website.