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Daily Inspiration: Meet David Bullivant

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Bullivant.  

Hi David, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I originally started studying welding as a means to pay for an education in writing and musical composition. My grandfather was a carpenter and I had a lot of exposure to working with my hands growing up, so pursuing something blue-collar felt pretty natural to me. After spending some time in the welding trade, I decided to find a career option that suited my interests. I opted against going into a union, though they are very good opportunities, and decided instead to study Welding Engineering at OSU. After a few years in school, I decided to pursue business opportunities instead where I would be free to set my own learning objectives and give myself a more wholistic education than what a very specialized engineering program could offer. Even though I didn’t find formal education particularly compelling, it did give me some valuable exposure to intro-level programming, and 3D modeling, which I have expanded on greatly on my own and through my work history while I was a student. 

I never really expected that I would do this. I think it really started 6 years ago when I began working for a small fabrication shop in Columbus. It was just me and the owner for a long time, and I quickly expanded my role from a welder to a partner as I self-educated in the many disciplines that make up a business. I’m very curious, and I enjoy the challenge of learning new things. Being at the ground level of a business gave me many directions to branch out in, and focus my learning in a more project-oriented sense. 

It wasn’t without its challenges though. The business I had become partner of was struggling and had been for a long time. It hadn’t been set up well in the beginning, and there were large changes that would need to be made before the business could ever be healthy. For about 4 years I worked there, 50, 60, 70, and 80-hour weeks to pay my dues, grow in the business and try to claw us out of the hole that we were in. After 4 years of working so hard, I came to the conclusion I was trying to fix problems my business partner wasn’t ready to acknowledge. Often, I think small business owners can get emotionally tied to their business in a way that blinds them to some of the objectivity that is needed to judge success and failure. After 4 years there, I decided to walk away and start over from zero. I was owed nearly a year of unpaid wages, most of which I left behind just to be free of my legal bindings. The only other employee of the business, Sean, left with me, and we started the long process of putting it all together. Sean was also owed a substantial sum of money. 2 years later we still get a check every month to pay off our remaining unpaid earnings. 

Starting the business like this was challenging. I probably had $50 to my name, likely that I borrowed from family. They had been very supportive of my goals to rise into business, and they were very supportive when I cut the line and decided to begin work on an empty canvas. For the first few months, we sent a few thousand emails introducing ourselves to local businesses. We built a website and got clear about our brand and our voice. We had t-shirts made, and stickers, and did what we could to put our name and logo in front of people. Covid made it challenging to get in front of people and make introductions, so we focused on our socials, and got engaged in our community pages. 

For a year we worked in a 10′ x 10′ storage unit. No heat. No lights. No water. No bathroom. No electricity. I ran the generator on my truck for everything we did, and we worked on the ground for the year because if we made a table, we wouldn’t have space in the 10′ x 10′ to store any of our tools. I ordered a large piece of plate, slid it off a trailer onto the ground, and we worked on that when we needed a work surface. In the winter, we even drove up to Mansfield a few times to work in a heated garage at the home of one of our friends Dad’s. We’d work all day in his garage and stay for dinner. It was just nice to get a break from the cold. On days when we needed to do office work, we piled in around my kitchen table in a modest duplex apartment. When the team began to grow and we didn’t have the room, we built a larger table to seat our new employees. 

In May of 2021, we got into our first real shop space, a modest 12oo sqft, and we’ve been growing rapidly since. The team is 7 now, and we’ll be moving into 6000 sqft by the end of the summer as we take on more volume of work, more diverse clientele, and continue to add more great individuals to our team. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Everything was hard for a while. Things are still hard. In the beginning, it was about getting our first few clients. Then we needed reviews to build up our social proof in our community. We still push hard to build our review base. Now the phone rings and the inquiries come in, and it’s a balance of choosing the right work for the team we have, and knowing when to venture into unfamiliar territory, whether that be a job that is large for us, or if it’s simply a different facet of the industry. We are still finding our niches and settling on the work we enjoy doing most. I wanted everyone in the company to have a say. I wanted them to leave a fingerprint on who we are as a business, changing our dynamics, and making our team more interesting and expressive. It is a challenge to keep so many people in alignment with one another, and though I can begin to understand why more businesses to not put so much emphasis on these workplace ideals, they are still very important to us, and a key component to what defines us as a team. We have grown very quickly and it comes with many growing pains to manage. Finding a balance between staying small and expanding our capabilities will always be a challenge, but it does get a little easier as time goes on. We have made tremendous progress in the 23 months we have been a business, and I’m so proud of the team we have built. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
We are a small business, but I would identify us most with being makers and creative, dynamic individuals. The business was built on some visions of better workplace ideals. Making tradespeople more visible in our community for their artistry and skill. Bringing some dignity and purpose into our business. We are contractors, but we are hardly what people think of when people think of contractors. I wanted to build a workplace that a younger version of myself would have been excited to get an interview at. I wanted a place that would help individuals grow, invest in their passions, grow them as leaders and professions, and help them develop the skills they would need to someday take on a position somewhere else that they never could have taken if it weren’t for their experience with us. We hope no one leaves, but encouraging everyone to follow their own path has been an important part of our vision. We want to change the way people view contractors and give people a unique experience. Contracting businesses are still trapped in the 1980s and it’s going to take a scrappy group of youngsters like us to shake things up. 

We are welders and metal fabricators. We do high-end interior metalwork for residential and commercial spaces, we offer small runs of manufacturing to many local businesses, and we pride ourselves in bringing unique perspectives to complex problems. 

My team is what sets us apart most. On my website, you will find the name and faces of everyone who makes all of these wonderful projects possible. Each person pictured has left an impact on the business, on the experience of our clients, and on me as an individual. Every day I wake up and put in the work to improve myself as a leader and a mentor so I can repay my team for their dedication and faith to the vision they are sharing with me. We’ve volunteered as a team. We’ve sponsored a grassroots music festival so the bands who played would get paid. We’ve run our generators at children’s events to fill up the bounce houses for the kids. We’ve made medals for a 5k charity event for an animal shelter raising money for adoption efforts. We’re a business, but we’re so much more than that. Every day I’m proud of what my team is doing, and how they have grown within the business. 

What do you like and dislike about the city?
Columbus is a wonderful place. There are so many amazing builders and creatives. It feels like every week I discover a handful more that have somehow alluded me. There is such a rich sense of community is the small business space. I’m not sure there’s anything specific about Columbus I dislike. 

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Image Credits
Marina Carey
Collins Laatsch
Connor Kidd

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