Written by Roger McCredie | Photos by Anthony Harden
This is a story about a man who was educated as a biologist, founded a successful IT business while still in college, met his wife in a zoo, studied in Sweden, became a zoo curator himself, ran an internet Scandinavian food import company, became a freelance data manager, and ended up founding a logistics company whose present clients include an upscale Hong Kong clothing manufacturer, an Australian toy and children’s clothing maker, and a company that makes pet clothing, including “aprons” for chickens.
Henry Bulluck’s Visten Business Services (named for the lake he lived close to during his sojourn in Sweden) is presently located in a sleek wood / leather / chrome suite of shared offices in a swanky corner of Biltmore Park, south Buncombe County’s movie-set instant town. When I arrive, a male office manager greets me with coffee, which I am just about to partake of when a youngish man in a hiking shirt, cargo pants, and walking shoes, comes through the lobby carrying a large box filled with smaller parcels and envelopes, all wrapped for mailing. I nod and say hello, assuming he’s the mailroom guy.
“Roger?” he asks. “I’m Henry Bulluck. I’d shake hands, but” – He nods towards the box. I move to help him, but he says, “No, I’m good. Go on back. I’ll be right there.”
“Let’s duck in here,” he says, having disposed of his burden, “it’s quiet.” He indicates a small vacant cubicle containing a desk and two chairs. Period. It’s like a police interview room with wall-to-wall carpet and nicer furniture.
“This place is sort of like an office hotel,” Bulluck says, “and it’s too expensive for our purposes. We’re just parked here for the time being until we can afford to take the next step, which is our own commercial space with lots more shipping room. We’re getting there. Baby steps.” [Editor’s note: Just as this story was about to go to press, Henry Bulluck called to say that Visten was in the process of moving into more commodious quarters on Old Airport Road in Fletcher.]
Bulluck is forty years old but looks ten years younger; he is compact and wiry and there’s no gray in his dark, close-cropped hair. His manner bespeaks a matter-of-fact competence which, it turns out, is reflective of his approach to his work. His firm specializes in providing logistical services to its clients — devising and implementing systems that make for smoother internal operation, thus freeing up company principals to do what they do without having to sweat the details.
In a nutshell, he says, “Visten provides help to small and medium-sized businesses who don’t have the time or the staff or the knowledge to solve the problems and handle the grunt work that needs to be done. Things like optimizing shipping procedures and reducing cost in the process, or organizing product flow, from concept through manufacture, for greatest efficiency.
“Most clients are their own worst enemies in these respects,” he says. “They get in their own way. Sometimes they know it, sometimes we have to point it out to them. And it’s perfectly understandable. They have a product that’s their baby, and the focus of their attention is developing and improving the product. But meanwhile, certain things have to be done. Somebody’s got to care for the baby’s day-to-day well being. That’s where we come in.
“Often it’s hard to wean the client away from micromanaging,” Bulluck says. “It’s like the baby thing again: Do you trust an outsider enough to hand over any aspect of your baby’s raising? It’s a process. The more you demonstrate to the company that you know what you’re doing and that you’re ultimately saving them money, the more trust they put in you. When you find yourself participating in all levels of the client’s logistics and planning, including new product development, you know you’ve been admitted to the inner sanctum.”
“Logistics” comes from the Greek word logistike, which literally means, “the art of calculation,” and is defined as: “The procurement, maintenance, and transportation of material, facilities, and personnel.” It requires a certain mindset, which is probably ingrained, to be an efficient logistician. Henry Bulluck was aware from early on that he possessed such a mindset, but it took him awhile, and an interesting trial-and-error process, to arrive at the point where he would make his living at it.
“I know I have a knack for this stuff,” he says, “but I can’t explain it. Family-wise I come from a business background. My mother’s dad was manager of Biltmore Forest Country Club, and my dad’s family comes from Rocky Mount, where he owned a jewelry store, so they both had jobs that involved multitasking and a lot of attention to detail, but it’s not quite the same. I love details. I love data. I love taking data and turning it into action. It just took me awhile to realize it.”
He says the first real clue was the way he approached his studies as a student at UNC-Charlotte. “I was always bored in college,” he says. “Basically I got the textbooks, I read them, I digested what they had to say, I took the tests and passed. I went to class as little as I could get by with.
“I was studying biology, and I eventually ended up concentrating in captive vertebrate management; that amounts to training to be a zookeeper,” he recalls.[quote float=”left”]“I basically put together my own major – I added courses in animal behavior, animal nutrition, that sort of thing. And I got a job at the [Western North Carolina]Nature Center.”[/quote]
Which explains how his career took its next directional turn. There was a pretty young intern working alongside him at the nature center. She was Swedish. They got married and moved to Sweden, where Bulluck enrolled at a Swedish university. Meanwhile he turned to the Internet and his love of information technology to make a living.
“I’ve always had an interest in IT,” he says, “and I hit upon the idea of marketing Scandinavian specialty foods – all the sausages, preserved fish, pastries, jams, and so forth – on the Net. But I saw the handwriting on the wall when Ikea [the Scandinavian home furnishings giant] added food to its mail order line. No way I could compete with that, and I was just marking time with that project anyway.
“It’s very hard to get a job in Sweden if you’re a foreigner, so our choices were sort of shaped for us. We moved back to the States – back here, in fact – and I joined the staff of the Western North Carolina Nature Center here in town as a curator. Figured I could finally put all that zoology to use.”
But the Nature Center stint didn’t last long. Bulluck apparently has a sort of Sherlock Holmes syndrome: A profoundly logical, problem-solving mind that is simultaneously repelled by having to work within established parameters, of which there are many in a state job. His work became a square-peg-round-hole situation, and he turned once again to the Internet, shopping for an outlet for his skill set. He found it on a freelance site that matches clients needing project-based services with qualified people who are into outsourcing.
It was, in fact, how he was introduced to Crazy K Farms, a company based in Hempstead, Texas, that, among other ventures, manufactures pet and poultry products, including clothing. In fact, Crazy K’s line of pet clothing is highly utilitarian, in contrast to Fair Isle sweaters and miniature dinner jackets. There are cat and dog “holsters,” which are basically zippered, non-chafing vests to which a leash can be attached (safer and more humane than collars). There’s the “Avian Have,” a deluxe hut for parrots and other feathered pets.
And there’s a whole line of poultry fashion and accessories, including the Birdie Bootie protective shoe, the Hen Saver Chicken Saddle (for really small jockeys), the Birdy Bra Crop Support and Chest Protector, … and Hen Holster Diapers for the pullet whose free range is in the home.
“There’s actually a growing market for chickens as household pets,” Bulluck says. “Where there’s a market for pets, there’s going to be a market for pet-related things. Crazy K realized that early on. We just had to help them sort out their ideas and facilitate manufacturing and shipping. They’re a success story. Since we took over the account in 2013 their business has almost doubled.”
What about branding? Has Visten considered submitting “Garments for Varmints” to the client? Bulluck sidesteps this suggestion (as he should) and continues.
“We’ve also taken on an upscale Hong Kong clothing manufacturer,” he says.[quote float=”center”]“And we’ve just added a third client called Such Great Heights, based out of Adelaide, Australia. Their wood components are being manufactured in Ohio by the Amish and their fabric components are being manufactured by Opportunity Threads in Morganton, North Carolina. They are into natural play items and clothing. Opportunity Threads is working on their clothing line right now. We will be handling all their logistics for domestic and international orders.[/quote]
“I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’re courting companies we can really interact and spend a lot of time with, and that means quality, not quantity. I’ve always been an observer of people, able to spot their efficiencies and inefficiencies, and I think that’s why I’m good at what I do. But it takes time to reach that point with a client,” he adds.
“In five years I’d like to see us with eight to ten clients and a commercial space of our own that’s big enough to handle our inventory and shipping requirements, but not too big. With some occasional extra help, I’d like to be able to get more people employed by that time – good people – to service our clients well. Right now Visten is essentially just my wife and me, but I’d like to find the right folks to work with us and pay them a good living wage.
“I’m not a corporate guy,” Henry Bulluck says. “I don’t want to make a bazillion dollars. I just want a good, comfortable life that involves helping small businesses realize their potential. Simple, really.”
Memo to self: Put “Garments for Varmints” back in idea file.
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