By Eric Peterson | Nov 01, 2021
Bloomer was selling aluminum horse trailers for a living prior to his foray into manufacturing with Bloomer Trailers starting in the late 1990s.
"The industry itself, I thought, was just kind of stagnant," he says, as the designs were overly simple and static because aluminum trailers were in high demand at the time.
"When you use horses all the time and haul them, you figure out things that work and things that could be better. So you make those suggestions, and nothing really happened much. It's pretty gluttonous."
An incident with one of his horses -- the feeder pan was too high for a smaller horse, leading to bleeding gums -- led Bloomer to call one of the manufacturers that supplied his sales lot. "We've got to make some changes, because every 10 years, these horses change," says Bloomer. They're breeding more bone, less bone, taller. Whatever it is, the horses are changing, so we have to change and adapt with the times."
A lukewarm response made Bloomer's mind up to start a trailer manufacturer himself. "I wanted to take it to a different level," he says. "Whether I built one or 1,000, I wanted it to be the best trailer."
Bloomer reels off the key features: "You need good fresh airflow. You need them to be able to get their head down and drain [their sinuses] if they need to. You need to have less vibration -- vibration equals fatigue in a horse."
These needs led Bloomer to seek out the right tires and axles to dampen vibration, install "a pod" for hay storage, and increase airflow to make for a horse-friendlier design when he and his crew built the company's first trailers in the late 1990s.
Back then, R&D was firsthand. "I wanted to go to the wind tunnels, but they were booked up by NASCAR for years," says Bloomer. "We found this stuff by riding in the back of a trailer, personally doing it. A lot of the things that happened happened by accident, but if you do 15 different scenarios and see which one gives you the best outcome, sometimes something will rear its head."
The company launched in Houston with 16 employees in a 10,000-square-foot space in 1998. Initial demand was higher than the forecasts, leading the company to upgrade to its current 65,000-square-foot facility in Salado in 2002. "I moved 20 or 30 families with me as we grew over there with me to this new plant, and a lot of them are still here today," says Bloomer.
The market "was receptive because it wasn't gimmicky, it was facts. That's what we're still doing today." Another factor: "Everybody was so production-oriented, and we were custom."
In 2007, Bloomer Trailers launched a new flagship trailer. "I completely redesigned it with all new extrusions and named it the Evolution -- because we're constantly changing it," says Bloomer. "It's not just eye candy -- there's so much inside it. . . . I put everything in there that people that use them would want."
Bloomer Trailers start at $55,000, but a deluxe model with built-in sleeping quarters can be $300,000 or more.
The company builds its trailers from scratch except for windows, couplers, axles, tires, jacks, and other commodity components. "We don't do any contracting," says Bloomer. "We do everything in-house."
After the company hit a critical mass, building trailers one by one was no longer efficient enough to meet demand. "I went to a component-based manufacturing thought process," says Bloomer. "They get very good at that job. If you do your calculations right, when the trailer hits that line on the floor, your walls fit perfectly, your roof fits perfectly, so there's no more beating and banging and cutting individual stuff."
What was the end result? "I tell you what: My quality improved because my workers improved, because they're doing the same thing and they understand it and they're good at it," says Bloomer. "In our business, efficiency is what makes or breaks your bottom line, so we want to be as efficient as we can."
Growth "has been consistent" aside from a "big hiccup" in sales from 2007 to 2009, and has manufactured upwards of 7,000 trailers to date.
The company now typically builds 20 units a month, with an average length of 36 feet. "We do more big trailers than anybody," says Bloomer. "I have good dealers, and they sell the product well."
Sales grew by 20 percent in 2020, and the trajectory has remained strong. "2021 should be a banner year," says Bloomer.
Challenges: "Hiring now is very difficult," says Bloomer. "I have a good HR lady who's been there and done it, but it's really difficult to figure out what motivates this new generation of employees."
Enhanced unemployment benefits during the pandemic didn't help, he adds. Since they ended in Texas in June 2021, the company has gotten more applicants, but it's still an issue. "We hired 10 people one week. Out of the 10 people, six of them failed their drug test. Out of the four that were left, two never showed up for the first day. Out of the two of those that were left, we've been able to retain one for months."
Supply chain disruptions have also cropped up during the pandemic. "It's an issue, but it's just a different problem to manage," says Bloomer. "We own our own dies at the extrusion company -- they're proprietary -- but when they run out of ingot, you're stopped, so you increase your inventory on your extrusions. We're over double what we normally keep."
He adds, "I don't like the just-in-time stuff. I've always carried a lot of inventory, just for that reason."
The issues have stymied growth in 2020 and 2021. "You think you can control your own destiny," says Bloomer, "but this year with supplies running out, it's very tough."
Opportunities: Texas is the company's top market, followed by Arizona, and Bloomer sees potential for growth in the Midwest and Southeast, as well as the West Coast. "A growing state for us is Missouri, and I have a good dealer in Oklahoma," says Bloomer. "Florida is a mecca for horses, and I think we haven't even scratched the surface there. Georgia, same way."
Needs: Bloomer wants to build a manufacturing annex that's about 30,000 square feet, but he's approaching potential construction cautiously right now. "Salado is booming in terms of growth," he says. "The prices have spiked so it kind of makes you leery about doing that right now."