For some people, like Carole Bulger, Owner of Bulger Equipment, entrepreneurship is a foregone conclusion. From an early age, they grow up with a mentality that anything is possible. They fix what needs to be fixed, try new things without hesitation and relish the opportunity to control their own destiny. Carole, who’s lived in Polk County since 1972, shared the story behind her entrepreneurial journey and how she and her husband, Pat, a fifth generation Floridian, have built a life by identifying opportunities and, most importantly, acting on them.
“Not long after Pat and I got married, we started our first business – Bulger Boatworks,” Carole said. “Based out of Bradley, FL, a small town in Polk County, we built 46ft commercial fishing boats. This was in the early 80s. We used to call it the ‘boat mine’, because we operated out of an old phosphate mine from the 1940s. After about five years in business, we had to shut things down because of Pat’s health.”
Carole shared that, despite his health issues, Pat was “born with a gift” and that he started welding at age six. According to Carole, he had the ability to put anything together and take anything apart. With these skills, and after he regained his health, Pat and Carole founded Bulger Welding and Fabrication in Lakeland. They specialized in stainless steel fabrication and operated for several years before Pat’s declining health forced them to rethink the long-term possibility of operating such a business.
“That’s when we started buying and selling restaurant equipment,” Carole said. “Pat was originally introduced to this business when he worked for Publix as a teenager. One of his jobs was running equipment to different locations in Florida. Needless to say, we were familiar with this type of a business.”
Carole continued, “At first, I operated as a sole proprietor. By 2008, we incorporated it and officially formed Bulger Equipment. We worked through several challenges including, learning the right equipment to buy, finding a good space to operate out of and surviving as a small business. We found our niche buying from schoolboards – they’re more likely to have used equipment that’s still in good condition – and utilized third party sites like eBay, Craigslist and OfferUp and of course our own website to sell our products. Before long, we were selling throughout the country and around the world.”
Over the years, Carole and Pat have made small changes to their strategy and their procurement procedures. At one point, they had a contract with Publix to buy their used 500KW Generators. That ended when Publix started utilizing auctions. They also used to “flip” Publix grocery stores, as a way to generate additional income, or would simply buy them at auction for the equipment. As Carole shared, nowadays, the focus is more about streamlining the business to maximize efficiency and revenue while reducing stress.
“We easily could have grown the business to a much bigger level,” she said. “However, it’s really not worth it. We’re in a good spot right now. We focus on equipment that we know is going to sell. Right now, the meat packing industry, pizza businesses and those restaurants with takeout are doing well. We stock the equipment they need.”
According to Carole, there is competition – even some in Polk County. What sets Bulger Equipment apart is their commitment to working with their customers, being upfront and honest and giving their customers advice based on their own personal experiences.
“We get people coming to us with their life savings to start a restaurant,” Carole said. “We’ll give them our honest opinion about their idea. We’ll also direct them towards installers and others in the industry to help them out. Most of these new restaurant owners have no idea where to look. We’re there for them and, in some cases, we can get them used equipment at a third of the price of new equipment. When you’re talking about a 60qt mixer, which usually cost around $19,000 new, that’s a big savings.”
For Carole, who truly enjoys working with and getting to know her customers, her short term goals are focused on weathering the pandemic. She also continues to position the company, by focusing on the most popular equipment, to operate most efficiently and effectively and to reduce the amount of inventory they sit on.
What advice does Carole have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “I always tell everyone I speak with, if you can keep your day job while you start your business, do it,” she said. “Having that source of income while you build your new business is extremely important. Once the new business gets going, then let the day job go. Also, don’t expect things to happen overnight and never give up. It’s going to be tough for at least a good year. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask others in your line of business for advice. Ask them questions. You don’t want to have any surprises.”