Business ramps up at dock equipment maker

Betty Dillard

For more than four decades, Bluff Manufacturing Inc. has been bridging the gap between a loading dock and a warehouse – literally. Based in Fort Worth, the manufacturing company is an industry innovator in the fabrication and design of top-shelf materials handling, dock and warehouse equipment, storage structures and safety barrier products. Touting the tagline “Service you can stand on,” Bluff provides high quality steel and aluminum boards and plates, portable yard ramps, dock levelers and cantilever racks for businesses in every industry and every market worldwide, from agriculture to military, from building trades to distribution. Customers include heavy hitters such as Frito Lay, Lumber Liquidators, Airgas, Nabisco, Schlumberger and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It’s everything from chicken coops to diamond mines. Anybody who is moving anything needs our products. Anybody who’s storing anything needs our products. It’s bridges and barriers,” said Andrea Curreri, Bluff Manufacturing president. “When you look at a dock and you’re backing up a truck to a dock, there’s always going to be a gap, hence our bridges. Forklifts don’t have wings.” Bluff Manufacturing started life as a welding company and got its name from its first Fort Worth location back in the 1920s. Dallas Welding moved to Bluff Street in Fort Worth and changed its name to Bluff Street Welding Works. In 1968, the company began building dock plates and dock boards for local materials handling and changed its name to Bluff Manufacturing. Today it is a multi-million dollar business occupying 56,000 square feet of space – Fort Worth is its only manufacturing location – and employing 70 people. With seven distribution warehouses, Bluff serves the United States through a national distributor network. Eighty percent of the product line is sold through distribution; only the yard ramps are sold directly. Curreri boasts that Bluff is the only company in its market to meet the American National Standards Institute’s requirements, adding that the product line has evolved as industries evolve and customers’ needs change. “Several of our products have come through dealers that have worked with an end user who had a problem. They’ve come to us to help solve their problem,” she said. “When I came on I said we are not just a manufacturing company. We are a solutions providing company. We are consultants. We are not selling dock boards. We sell solutions. We listen to what the problem is and we create something. We solve problems.” A small-business consultant, Curreri began advising Bluff in 2008 on business development, channel management, sales training, implementation of a strategic plan and succession planning. She became vice president of marketing and sales and chief operating officer in 2009. When the company was purchased by management in December 2012, Curreri was named president, one of the few female executives in the field. “We’re seeing more and more women in the sales roles,” she said. “And more are being added to HR [human resources] roles, customer service and project management, but there are very, very few in executive roles. I go to the trade shows and it’s me and the guys.” Recognized as a strong brand for 40 years, Bluff Manufacturing has ramped up its marketing, sales and product development in the last five to seven years, Curreri said. In 2010, Bluff acquired B&L Structures, expanding its portfolio to include work platforms, mobile units, stairways, caged ladders and mezzanines. “We’ve rebranded, moved the technology forward, reached out to dealers in a different way, created more training opportunities. We’ve sent some of our accounting managers into dealer organizations to work with their sales management, helping them to develop skills, understand the markets better, understand our products more,” Curreri said. Bluff’s strategic plan is working. The company has experienced 20 to 25 percent year-over-year growth since the recession, according to Curreri. “We’re listening more,” she said. “When you understand the needs of the end users and understand their business model, it enhances what the dealers do strategically. It helps further develop our products to best practice and also to develop new products.” Curreri said it’s hard to innovate in this field but Bluff Manufacturing has been able to develop new products that increase efficiency and safety and are easy to use. Additions to the lineup are fracking ramps for the energy industry, a patented spring-loaded dock plate that stores vertically, a plate fitted with caster wheels for rolling, and Speedy Board, a dock board designed for forklifts that allows a driver to stay safely in the cage while placing the board. “We pride ourselves on quality and our lead time,” Curreri said. “We are the only company in the industry right now with short leads. If we say something’s going to be out in 10 days it’s out in 10 days or less. Our distributors know they can count on us to deliver on time.” W.W. Cannon, a materials-handling and storage equipment provider based in Dallas, is a longtime dealer with Bluff. “They make it easy for us. The turnaround is quick. That means we keep going back to them to do business because they make it easy – plus they make a good product,” said W.W. Cannon President and CEO Greg Brown. “It’s our 75th year. We hope to do another 75 years with Bluff.” Precision Warehouse Design LLC, a material handling integrator in Carrollton, is another longtime Bluff dealer. “It’s a very professional group. We’ve never had a quality issue with them,” said Joe Jackson with Precision Warehouse Design. “They adhere to industry requirements and continue to improve their engineering skill sets and products. Their delivery time is perfect. Andrea has a real knack for where the company should be. It’s a good place to work and it shows.” The next project on Bluff’s drawing board is a move to a larger facility, Curreri said, with additional space for offices, manufacturing, storage, products and training. The company distributes in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean and is in negotiations to distribute in Brazil, Ireland and Germany. “We are at a great point in this economy. We are the value- priced solution and we are efficient,” Curreri said. “We’re always looking to expand our efficiency, better the quality of our products and for ways to create additional products with new technology while improving the products we already have.”

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