EDMORE — Bumblebees and forklifts may not seem like an obvious partnership, but they’re proving to be a hot combo for an Edmore business.
Brian Kulling, who grew up near Detroit and now lives in Alma, earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University in Flint. He was looking for business opportunities and while he was working for a sheet metal provider to A&O Forklift, he heard the owner of A&O was looking to sell.
Kulling purchased A&O Forklift from Dean Voss in January 2012. Voss still owns A&O Equipment just west of Edmore on M-46.
A&O Forklift is located in Edmore’s Sunrise Industrial Park, formerly home to Hitachi Magnetics Corp., which ceased production in 2004. Hitachi donated the entire 63-acre property, valued at about $5 million, to the village of Edmore, along with $2.4 million to aid in redeveloping the facility in 2007.
Voss had the foresight to manufacture a specialized line of forklifts for beekeepers and orchards. When Kulling purchased the company, he built on Voss’ success.
The company already had two forklift models — the turbo and the XL. Kulling and his colleagues created two new prototypes. The XRT, a forklift monster which can lift up to 3,000 pounds, and the XT, a more budget-friendly forklift which can lift up to 1,200 pounds.
Prices range from $25,000 to $43,000, depending on how customized a customer wants a forklift, but the average cost for an A&O forklift is about $36,000.
Sales are up 30 percent since the two new models were introduced early this year. Kulling had to make new hires and employs almost 30 people now. A&O has official dealers in Alberta, Canada; near Melbourne, Australia; and in Douglas, Ga., plus a sales and service center in Modesto, Calif.
“There was a lot of demand in those areas,” said Kulling, who obtained this valuable information throughout his extensive travels. “The popularity has definitely exceeded our expectations.”
A&O employees will build about 180 forklifts this year at their Edmore headquarters, a 40,000-square-foot building in Sunrise Industrial Park. Employees built about 140 forklifts last year and about 120 forklifts the year before that.
The forklifts sport Kubota diesel engines, so they can be repaired at any number of engine service centers throughout the United States. A&O is also branching out from just selling to beekeepers and now sells to scrapyards, as well as apple, blueberry and cherry orchards. Paramount Farms, an almond and pistachio farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California, recently purchased three forklifts from A&O.
“It’s been nothing but up, it’s been such a positive experience,” said Kulling of his relatively new business venture. “I can’t complain about the growth. We’ve never laid off anyone.”
Edmore Village Manager Neil Rankin said A&O is a positive example of a growing Michigan business that has found success in Edmore because of the village’s location at the crossroads of agriculture and manufacturing.
“The Sunrise development and its proximity to M-46 combined with the financing opportunities that the village can offer through the Edmore Economic Development Loan Fund, can give A&O the edge when they decide to expand,” Rankin said. “And I have no doubt that they will expand as they see continued need for niche agriculture equipment.”
Sunrise Industrial Park in Edmore is also home to Ryan’s Equipment, which is currently expanding its product line and finding a market in timber and forest products, according to Rankin.
The Edmore Village Council recently voted to submit an application to the Road Commission for Montcalm County to construct a new road at Sunrise Industrial Park and provide access to the front parcels that face M-46.
“With the new water and sewer lines installed and completed this summer, there is no doubt that businesses looking to establish or grow at this site can get the edge in Edmore,” Rankin said.
For more information about A&O Forklift, visit hummerbee.com or search “A&O Forklift” on Facebook.