Ol'Man Tree Stands-The Company
Bob Louk and John Louk, father and son (pictured on top left of this page), founded the Company in 1990 and shared equal ownership and officer duties. The two started working on the design of a unique treestand in 1984 when they had been hunting together several times and John found himself having to rescue his father from other types of treestands.
It was the love and concern of the two that motivated them to improve the design of treestands that were on the market at that time. The two worked on the design together for those first 7 years and made many improvements to the design while sharing time together both in the woods and in the garage. After 7 years of trial and error the two at last believed that they had in fact invented an improved product, and the father decided to apply for a U. S. Patent. Because funds were limited he borrowed $1,000 on a credit card, and bought materials to build the prototype that would be used to apply for the patent and hired a patent attorney to draw up the application.
After the patent application had been filed, they began to manufacture the first product to sell. Before marketing the product it needed a catchy name and because John wanted to portray the love and concern he had for his father, the name “Ol’ Man” was born. Since that time the “Ol’Man” has been the icon for the uniqueness in design and motivation of John to produce a high quality product. That first year Bob and John built and sold 100 units from a small garage in their backyard. In November of 1989 John accepted a position as local manager for a local utility company and moved to Leakesville, MS.
The demand for the product continued to increase the following year and John made the decision to subcontract most of the work since they could not keep up with demand. Working capital was limited to personal loans secured by Bob and John. In 1991 the company built and sold 800 units to local hunters and several local retailers.
In January of 1992 Bob and John chose to attend the Shot Show, the largest trade show for the hunting industry. That year it was held in New Orleans, LA and they commuted to the show all four days. After seeing the market for the first time under one roof they began to realize the potential for their product and decided to grow the business. A new attorney was engaged to expedite the patent, as the present attorney was not making progress with the application. In that same time period the Company received a cease and desist demand letter and was forced to defend the infringement allegations. The new attorney advised the Company to give him time to review the other patent and continue to pursue the patent that the Louks had applied for in 1990. The Company also rented a 2,400 square foot building for assembling and finishing the product. The Company contracted welding and fabrication out to a small metal shop in Lucedale, MS. That year the company managed to build and sell 1,800 units and added another product to the line, the Grand Ol’Man for larger hunters.
In the spring of 1993 Bob had a mild heart attack and needed triple bypass surgery. This put much of the responsibility on John and he knew he could not do all that was necessary to run the Company and keep another full time job. After Bob recovered from the surgery, John suggested they pursue additional financing to hire more workers, and they sought a $40,000 SBA loan secured by Bob’s house. The bank made the loan, which provided them the working capital to hire the company’s first two employees. Ronnie Fuller quickly learned every process in the production line and is now the production supervisor. Hollis Vess was an experienced welder and is now the welding supervisor. The Company made the decision to lease a 6,200 square foot building and purchase more productive equipment. In the last half of that year things really began to turn around in their favor. The patent was issued in August, they had hired a small workforce, and the infringement claim was overcome which freed them up to continue manufacturing the current design. That year they built and sold over 3,200 units and managed to show a small profit. With Bob’s health in question John requested that he be allowed to purchase 2,000 shares from him under a promissory note for a period of 10 years. This decision would help secure the ownership of the Company and improve the financial position of John’s parents.
The following year, 1994, turned out to be the first turning point of the Company as it had grown to the point of needing a full time manager. John realized that he would be forced to either resign his position with the utility company or they would need to consider selling the Company. John was willing and able to take the responsibility so he decided after 13 years to resign his position with the utility company to manage L & L Enterprises and the growth it was experiencing. That year John made the decision to offer health insurance, 401(K), and paid vacation and sick leave. As manager, John recommended that the Company offer benefits, hoping to attract and hold a better workforce, which was necessary to continue growing the Company. Also that year John worked with several employees to design a new product line, and after hours and weeks of hard work, they came up with what would be the best selling model in just one year, The Vision. The design was so unique that John filed for a U.S. Patent and had the employees assign the patent to the Company. The Vision is still the best selling product today and has forced competition to build similar products. That year proved to be very productive as the Company began to earn a respectable market share in the South and for the second year, made a profit.
In 1995 John made the decision to move the corporate office to Hattiesburg, MS realizing that a larger workforce would be necessary to grow the business. To accomplish the screening and hiring process, John hired the Company’s first human resources manager who had 17 years of experience. Gene Smith developed an employee handbook and handled the benefits. Mr. Smith is still with the Company and is now also serving as Corporate Secretary. That year the workforce grew to over 30, produced over 5,000 units and added 2 new products to the line, The Grand Vision and The Tara. The manufacturing plant remained in Leakesville for the time being. John began to search for a larger manufacturing facility that would increase production capacity. Also it was necessary to search for a bank that would be able to provide an increased working line of credit and financing for the expansion. With the demand for the product continuing to increase, John sought out independent sales representatives and contracted two groups, which covered 26 states. Before the year ended the Company paid off all personal loans and agreed to purchase Bob’s remaining 3,000 shares through his Trust.
In the spring of 1996 the Company secured the financing for the purchase of a 66,000 square foot building and several automated pieces of equipment to increase the production capacity by more than 50%. The bank also increased the line of credit, which allowed the Company to build inventory and maintain a good cash position during the off-season. In June the plant was ready to begin production, and the plant in Leakesville was shut down and sold. With the corporate office and manufacturing plant being under one roof, it managed to grow more than 40% and show a good profit. The Company’s market share increased and demand for the Ol’Man product line continued to grow because of its unique design and high quality construction.
In 1997 the Company made the decision to engage a certified public accounting firm to ensure its financial position with the bank and the IRS. Later that year John traveled to Ireland and assisted in the design of a new carbon product line. Also that year the patent for the Vision was issued and a license was signed for a new ladder. These new product lines would continue to improve the market share of the Ol’Man product line and round out the product mix.
In the summer of 1998 John hired the Company’s first sales manager, as he needed assistance managing and maintaining the distribution network, which had grown to over 600 customers in 43 states. The Company also secured the license to camouflage their carbon treestand line and added the Ol’Timer ladder series to the line. In December, “Field & Stream” magazine recognized the AirElite series as “The Best of The Best” and the Company received the award during the 1998 Shot Show. Staff offices were remodeled and the computer software was upgraded. Sales continued to grow and the Company ‘s workforce grew to over 80 employees. In order to sustain the proper cash flow a different bank was necessary and the Company changed accounting firms, to KPMG Peat Marwick LLP.
In 1999 the accounting firm recommended the Company change its fiscal year end from December to March. This proved to be a good tax advantage and also allowed for a better time of year to close the books. Demand for the product line had grown to the point that the Company struggled to maintain inventories and was in a need for additional working capital. The Company also purchased a cut and sew factory in Sumrall, MS. This purchase allowed the Company to maintain control of supply and quality of all cloth accessories and strap parts for treestands. The Company purchased a large piece of hunting land on the MS River to test new product designs and support sales. With these two purchases the Company’s total assets almost doubled. The Company also invested in more warehouse space and additional equipment to also improve supply and demand. That year the Company built and sold over 70,000 units and had over 150 employees between the two factories. The Company was recognized as one of the state’s “Fast 40” and received the award as the 21st fastest growing company in Mississippi.
Year 2000 proved to be one of the most challenging yet as projections for the year reached an all time high, increasing over 40%. The decision to purchase a higher end manufacturing software was made in May but could not be implemented soon enough to be used in planning production and handling the accounting efficiently. A consultant was contracted in November to prepare for year-end and make recommendations to management to improve efficiency in accounting and manufacturing along with assisting in implementing the new software. A change in the economy the last quarter of 2000 and the first quarter of 2001 slowed sales and new orders. The commitment to build inventory had already been made and it was necessary to seek additional working capital and warehouse space to store it.
Ol' Man is still growing, and has developed new and exciting innovative products for 2002, which includes a new Pivoting Spreader Arm design available exclusively through Ol' Man Treestands. Be sure to visit our online product showcase for full details on these new, exciting products available only from Ol' Man! From the Ol'Man website www.OL-Man.com
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