The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has affected every sector and aspect of lives across the globe. And while many have had to rethink their future plans, Matt Bulloch has acted quickly to save his business and support recovery efforts.
Bulloch, President and Founder of Traverse City, MI-based TentCraft, rapidly evaluated how to best respond to the havoc the pandemic has been causing. As cancellations swept across the event industry—what had been his custom-printed tent and canvas structure company’s major source of business—he saw an opportunity to completely switch gears, and summarily save jobs while helping medical professionals working on the front lines.
On March 16, he sent an email to his 75 employees, alerting them to the major change about to take place. They would need to unify and increase their output to do a month’s worth of work in a week’s time.
“We, together, are going to completely retool the company to focus on supporting health and medical applications. Our products are going to be in demand and will save lives,” Bulloch wrote.
A New Direction
Rallying his team to transform TentCraft’s existing stock into customizable pop-up medical shelters and drive-thru screening tents, the company also sought to offer an expanded portfolio of products and an appropriate accompanying marketing plan. They began designing in-demand items such as directional signage, roll-up doors, floors, lighting, and heating solutions. Though the company had no experience in healthcare, it suddenly had an entirely new business and client base that was helping to combat COVID-19.
Having relaunched their website to reflect a different mission, TentCraft received an order for a drive-thru tent with a partition for patient privacy the following day from nearby Munson Medical Center; it was successfully installed on March 18 for COVID-19 testing.
Orders for custom tents began coming in from hospitals across the country. While filling the demand, TentCraft continued to develop new products—cots to meet the needs of limited hospital beds and roofless tents to quickly segment spaces and accommodate repurposed larger indoor areas such as convention centers.
Further helping the company’s effort, TentCraft received $75,000 in funding last month from Pure Michigan Business Connect COVID-19 Emergency Access and Retooling Grants program, created to assist small manufacturers retooling and producing critical health and human service supplies in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Answering Opportunity’s Knock
Bulloch’s background has provided him with wide-ranging experiences, including active duty in the Army, an internship with Apple’s operations, a summer job fighting fires with the U.S. Forest Service, and a two-year span as an Analyst with Credit Suisse. But he decided that Wall Street wasn’t for him.
“The stepfather of a good friend from McIntire owned a large print company in Michigan, and had a product idea that wasn’t receiving enough attention from his core team,” Bulloch recalls. He mentioned that he was interested in stepping out on his own and starting an entrepreneurial venture.
“He offered to let me start the company with his financial backing,” he says. “So the McIntire alumni network directly led to the opportunity.”
Bulloch relaunched the custom-printed tent company in 2006 and switched careers. By 2007, it had earned $1 million in revenue.
Bringing the company’s production back to the United States from Italy, Bulloch set up shop in Michigan in 2009 to reduce shipping costs, which—due to the factory now being stateside—also made it possible to pivot so quickly in the face of such extraordinary and difficult circumstances.
A McIntire-Made Future
Bulloch is clear about connecting his business acumen back to experiences originating at the Commerce School.
“Virtually every project in the real world is a group project. McIntire prepared me very well to work in groups and harness the collective wisdom of teammates with different strengths and weaknesses, more so than any one of us could have done individually,” he says. “I compare that with the rest of my college classes that were mostly individually based, and McIntire was by and large a better preparation for the workplace.”
Bulloch also notes how his time at the Comm School paved the way for him to pursue an MBA at Stanford, adding that UVA (and mostly McIntire) grads comprised the third largest cohort in the program from a single university, after Stanford and Harvard.
He fondly looks back at his time in the Integrated Core Experience (ICE), McIntire’s hallmark third-year curriculum, citing his time in Block 1, learning “Strategy” with Dean Zeithaml, as well as courses with “top-notch professors” such as Professors Ryan Nelson, Trey Maxham, Bill Kehoe, and Robert Kemp and an equities class with Professor Bill Wilhelm, “Accounting” with Professor Roger Martin, and “Negotiations” with Professor Lucien Bass that he enjoyed.
“And I will forever hold a spot in my heart for [then Assistant] Dean Rebecca Leonard,” he says, crediting her with helping him get accepted to McIntire and who was “so helpful” when he had to take a leave of absence during his studies for active duty service in the Virginia Army National Guard.
As TentCraft continues to provide product to support medical teams, Bulloch looks to the future.
“I believe there is a massive opportunity over the next 5-10 years to acquire other small manufacturing companies and implement the tools and systems that we use at TentCraft to take these other businesses to the next level.”
After the pandemic subsides, he is interested in assembling a group of companies, operating with the same kind of vision that drove his early successes.
“I’d love to give other entrepreneurs an equity stake to grow the business, similar to my ‘deal’ with my partner when I started TentCraft.”