As it celebrates its 30th anniversary, Tulmar is looking to a bright future in the air industry, following two years of pandemic-related challenges.
Founded in April of 1992, the Hawkesbury-based company – which designs, manufactures and distributes engineered protective textiles, survivability and safety solutions for the aerospace, defence and public security industries – signed up a record number of new customers last month. The addition of new, smaller air companies to its baseline business of commercial carriers helped the company weather the COVID-19 storm over the past two years and has allowed Tulmar to diversify its customer base, as orders bounce back from larger companies.
“We’ve added an incredible number of new customers,” beams Patrick Tallon, Tulmar’s President and minority shareholder. “We worked really hard to get business from smaller operators.”
Prior to March of 2020, 40 per cent of Tulmar’s business was from commercial aviation, with 90 per cent 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 make up the 60 per cent majority of business – remained stable, orders from commercial carriers came to a grinding halt at the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, as airlines grounded their planes due to travel restrictions.
“It’s almost like in an instant that business dried up,” recalls Tulmar’s president. “We stopped doing seat belts, we stopped doing life jackets, we stopped doing rafts.”
“If there’s no passengers there’s no need to fix seatbelts, there’s no need for life jackets.”
With its military contracts providing a foundation to keep work at Tulmar’s 60,000 square foot facility and 90 employees going, the company went out in search of new customers, recruiting work from private jet operators and resource companies that used small aircraft to service operations in Canada’s north. Tallon admits it is hard to replace the business of large airline companies with multiple smaller companies, but the extra work helped minimize layoffs and gave the company an extra customer base that remains steady, even as orders from larger airlines return.
“The good news is when the big guys come back and we have this diversified mix of smaller customers I think we’re going to take off,” Tallon enthuses, outlining some of the multiple orders the company has received so far in 2022.
Air carriers must have to have their life jackets and other safety equipment serviced at regular intervals, which guarantees future work for Tulmar.
“We have great customer services, we have a fantastic team, so we’re very confident that now that we have acquired these customers, we’ll keep them,” Tallon says.
Tulmar Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and majority shareholder Barney Bangs – who has been with the company since it was founded and remains heavily involved in the business – served as a guiding light during the pandemic. Ups and downs have always existed in the airline industry and Bangs’ experience provide leadership and stability to the organization.
“Barney’s been here since the beginning and he always reminds us we’ve been here before,” Tallon says of the company’s CEO, who focuses on the strategic side of the company, while Tallon manages day-to-day operations. “We speak every morning first thing and talk about everything from our orders to the Montreal Canadiens (both are Habs fans).”
Tallon joined the company in May of 2019, moving with his wife from Toronto to L’Orignal.
“As a person who just moved here from downtown Toronto just three years ago, I can tell you my wife and I absolutely love this area,” Tallon says, noting company CEO Bangs also has 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 facility in the municipality. The factory’s modernization includes equipment ranging from computerized cutting tables, stitching machines and Radio Frequency welding and heat sealing equipment, to highly sophisticated testing and certification equipment, including cold temperature test chambers, inertia reel testing equipment and computerized measurement and test equipment for quality inspection.
“We have an unbelievable team,” Tulmar’s president says proudly, of the company’s focus on employees, customers, and shareholder returns. “We have a fantastic workforce all through the plant and a strong executive team.”
Tulmar’s, military and defence contracts, which became a disproportionately high portion of its revenue over the last two years, are also taking flight, with the company receiving a very large order from its largest customer General Dynamics just this month. General Dynamics also obtained the contract for light-armoured replacement vehicles for the Canadian military and Tulmar is heavily involved in the project.
While optimistic about the coming year, Tallon says the company’s executive team remains cautious about the long-term effects of the pandemic on business.
“We thought last November things were picking up, but then the darkest days for us were in January,” he observes. “While I’m optimistic today, I’m concerned about things like inflation, cost of raw materials, and the cost of diesel.”
With fuel costs continuing to rise, shipping prices have more than doubled in the past two years. Supply chain issues are also a concern, as Tulmar’s key defence contracts require military specification parts, which are often sole sourced.
“A lot of the things we make you can’t just go buy (the materials) somewhere else,” Tallon says.
As part of its 30th anniversary, Tulmar has been holding small celebrations, including a recognition ceremony two weeks ago for 30 long service employees – three who have worked with the company since its beginning.
The company is also celebrating the introduction of the AS9100 Quality Management System – a key achievement for its Aerospace and Defence business. Tulmar achieved its AS9100 certification in December 2021.
As it moves into the future Tulmar is developing the company’s own products, as opposed to being reliant on contract manufacturing, including the launch of two tactical life jackets this spring. Prototype work has also been completed on an anti-theft device to be used on autonomous military vehicles – with a company representative traveling to Fort Benning, Georgia, this month to demonstrate it to the United States Army.
“We can go and find unique products and turn them into solutions,” Tallon says of Tulmar’s innovations. “Our customers count on us for those challenging items.”
Tulmar is currently hiring. More information can be found on the Tulmar website.