Doors Continue to Open for Busy Distributor
Tull Brothers Inc., a one-stop shop with a ‘dizzying array of new products’
At just two years shy of becoming a 100-year-old company, Tull Brothers Inc. celebrates its past accomplishments and believes its adaptability and product-savvy staff will help ensure it has a secure future. The 98-year-old Tull Brothers in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, distributes doors, frames and hardware and offers door service and repair.
Brothers Willard and John Tull founded their company in 1922 in downtown Hartford. They’d both been salesmen for Russell & Erwin Manufacturing Company, producers of hardware, and the forerunner of Corbin Russwin, Inc./ASSA ABLOY, a leader in locks, key systems, exit devices, door closers, decorative hardware and electronic access control. The brothers sold their company to Bill Higgins who became the second president in 1961. After a successful run, Higgins sold the firm to Ned Allen in 1999.
Up until the early 1970s, companies like Tull Brothers priced and sold all of their door-related components, like frames, doors and hardware, separately. Then, because of evolving market demands, door and hardware companies began to offer all of the related components to contractors as a package.
“We essentially became a one-stop-shop for everything door-related,” says Allen, President of Tull Brothers. “Up until then, contractors themselves had to coordinate among the trade industries to get what they needed when they needed it for a construction job. Distributors like us began to take on those chores for them.”
Door Products Just Keep Expanding
Technicians in the door industry need to be knowledgeable about thousands of products, including frames, hinges, locksets and door types. And, Allen says, the ever-evolving door industry continues to develop a dizzying array of new products.
“Locksets and hardware are changing to meet the dynamics of today’s market. For example, schools are now requiring locksets that permit classroom doors to be locked from the inside. This capability provides extra security, so teachers don’t have to go out in the hallways to lock their doors in an emergency situation,” he says. “As a result of this change, we’ve installed thousands of new locksets and lockset retrofits in Connecticut schools.”
The electrification of door locks is another trend that has made the use of mechanical keys seem somewhat antiquated. Doors to hotel rooms, offices and other secure spaces now open with a swipe of a card, punch of a code or command from a smartphone.
“Many of today’s locking products take advantage of computer technology to allow or restrict access and provide a great deal of other tracking and recordkeeping information. One of the latest trends is locks that unlock via smartphone. There are so many choices available in electronic locks today that we really have to keep on our toes because of the constant swell of new options,” Allen says.
Another technology involves health care. Door locks and handles with an antimicrobial finish have been available for some time, but continue to improve. The special coating inhibits the ability of microorganisms to grow on the surface of a door lock or handle and also helps protect the hardware.
“Because of the coating, there is no need to constantly sanitize these door locks and handles. It’s a far more efficient way of keeping surfaces germ-free. We all know that viruses are front and center in the news now, and this development could spark renewed interest in these types of products,” he says.
Submittals Are Key Service
One of Tull Brothers’ primary customer services is preparing submittals. These are detailed responses to an architect’s construction project drawings, which specify the kinds of products required for the job.
“As part of our sales process, we go through the drawings and take the general requirements of a job and bring them down to the specifics,” he says. “We determine what door-related products would best fit the architect’s specifications and which parts are going to be available when crews will need them.”
Allen says that door-related manufacturers also are pushing for the acceptance of higher value products and those that offer greater security.
“They are making a big push to sell higher-end products. And, these manufacturers are feeding off an increasingly security-conscious public. People are demanding doors and locks with enhanced safety features,” he says. “And younger people are helping fuel the demand for more devices that are controlled by technology, such as smart speakers and cellphones.
Tull Brothers, for example, recently provided electronic door equipment for the renovation of the five-story North Armory at Hartford’s Colt Gateway complex into apartments. Fobs are used to unlock the apartment doors. The apartments are marketing to young, urban professionals who want to live close to downtown.
The company’s expertise was also called upon for the meticulous four-year, $32 million renovation of nearby Waterbury City Hall, an ornate Beaux-Arts structure. This architectural gem, originally designed by turn-of-the-century architect Cass Gilbert, had suffered a great deal of wear and tear and vandalism over the years, which led to the building being closed for multiple code violations.
During the renovation, all mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire alarm and fire protection systems were upgraded to meet the requirements of a modern municipal headquarters while still retaining the historic integrity of the building.
Tull Brothers’ role was to refurbish and refinish all of the building’s original door hinges. The company also created a custom lever/lockset design that matched the original but with modern mechanisms to meet life safety codes, fire code requirements and also Americans with Disabilities Act needs. The overall effort won an ENR New York Award of Merit for Government/Public Buildings.
The company’s work as a subcontractor on a Ronald McDonald House of Connecticut garnered recognition from the Connecticut Building Congress. The Association of General Contractors also honored the Mort and Irma Handel Performing Arts Center at the University of Hartford in which they participated. As a major distributor, Tull Brothers also has completed numerous high-profile projects for many of Connecticut’s largest companies, like ESPN, United Technologies, Travelers, The Hartford and Cigna.
Grooming the Next Generation
Allen says that one of the challenges facing a company like Tull Brothers is attracting and keeping employees who must maintain a lot of detailed knowledge about the wide range of products manufactured today.
“Five years ago, the average age of one of our workers was 55 and he or she had been in the industry about 30 years. Today, the average age is about 40, so we are trying to hire and grow our people and to keep them interested in a career with us,” Allen says. “We have hundreds of years of combined experience on our team, and I’m pleased that we have a new group of employees who are becoming the next generation of workers for our industry,” he adds.
When Allen bought Tull Brothers, there were only two employees. He has grown his team to 18, a staff that last year generated about $6.5 million in sales and service. The sales force primarily targets organizations with broad-based needs: hospitals/health care-related facilities, insurance and financial service companies, industrial, education and multifamily housing.
“We’re fortunate that we serve a mix of companies in these industries because each of them can be cyclical depending on what’s happening in the market and in the news,” he says. “I believe Tull Brothers is alive and thriving because we have learned to adapt to evolving market changes over the years. And, our workers have become product knowledge experts who are most attentive to customer care.”