Tuesday December 12, 2017

Business Booming as Fulton Tool Co. Shows Growth

Company adding workers, more production space
By Payne Horning

    Bruce Phelps

    When the Fulton Tool Company caught fire in 2003, owner Bruce Phelps says the blaze consumed everything.

    “It was a total loss,” Phelps said. “We didn’t have anything to speak of.”

    Phelps was one of three founders of the company, which uses computer-controlled machinery to make parts for manufacturers. It had been a staple of Fulton since it opened in 1959. But as devastating as the fire was for his business, Phelps said there was a silver lining.

    “It gave us an opportunity to start over,” he said. “It was a big change.”

    After deciding to rebuild in Fulton, Phelps said he invested millions to bring in equipment and machinery that would allow the company to make bigger and more valuable products.

    That is leading to a resurgence.

    The business now has its largest backlog of orders since the 1990s. To meet the demand, Phelps has hired several new staff members, with plans to bring on another five to 10 workers. And the company has recently added two new machining centers, tearing down old office space in the 32,000-square-foot facility to make room for them.

    Phelps credits their marketing efforts with defense systems for the increase in orders, and he thinks that will only continue.

    "It does benefit us, a great benefit,” Phelps said. “We think it’s there."

    Fulton Tool’s clientele are located all over the world, but only about a quarter are in New York. As manufacturers have fled the state, Phelps said the very nature of his work changed.

    “My time was spent on the road selling,” Phelps said. “I used to go to Rochester every day. Sometimes I would go through Ithaca, to Auburn and back to Rochester. Every day I was traveling a lot of miles.”

    That model is no longer relevant, Phelps said, because the available business is no longer within driving distance. Phelps said many companies in the country — like Fulton Tool — have suffered along with American manufacturing. Where once there were about 15,000 of these “job shops,” today there are about half that amount.

    The company adapted to survive. It moved much of its business online and updated its in-house technology.

    “We got into what we needed to get into and learned it,” Phelps said. “It made us better people.”

    And Phelps says, the business too is better for it. Fulton Tool now enjoys International Organization for Standard (ISO) certification for quality management and practices. The prestigious certification is earned by companies with a solid reputation for customer satisfaction.

    Phelps says gaining the ISO certification was not easy. But then again neither was rebuilding the company from scratch. For him, it all goes back to one key principle that any business owner interested in success must remember.

    “Business need to look at themselves and, ‘ask are they dedicated?’” Phelps said. “That’s the one thing you’ve got to do.”