Web Exclusive: Gilman Brothers Reinvents Itself

The Gilman Brothers Co., which was launched in 1897 by the grandfather of the company’s current president, is riding the wave of the largest product launch in company history while at the same time revamping the way it does business both internally and externally.

The Gilman, Connecticut-based foamboard manufacturer this month launches its new “INFINITY” product line, aimed at any environment where graphic signage is in use, including airports, grocery and convenience stores and restaurants.

“INFINITY is the largest product launch in the company’s history,” says Bill VanHorn, Gilman Brothers’ director of sales, adding that it’s part of the company’s new, trademarked ColorOne White Point Management System.

INFINITY is one of two major product rollouts for Gilman Brothers in the past year, the other being the MountCor line. Several years in development, MountCor is specific to the picture framing industry and improves productivity, speed and flexibility for users, VanHorn says.

In the case of Gilman’s INFINITY products, which the company spent three years developing, VanHorn says it has several advantages: It offers the same white point whether the board is laminated with paper or styrene; it’s twice as dense as competing foams; it has the smoothest, most consistent texture; and it’s the most flexible, VanHorn says, adding that it can be shipped flat but can be cold-bent on-site to create a 3D display.

Along with the product launches has been some shuffling behind the scenes at Gilman Brothers, including the hiring of VanHorn in early August. He comes to the company from Regal Graphics, where he was a distributor for Gilman Brothers products. Before that VanHorn was with General Electric’s plastics division, which later was bought out and became Sabic.

“I was a customer of Gilman and there were a lot of things I wish I had when I was out there selling on behalf of Gilman,” VanHorn says, adding that since he’s come on board, several of those wishes are being granted, including revamping the website and upgrading all its sales materials; reassessing its current distribution channels and, in some parts of the country, replacing its manufacturer reps so the in-house sales team can maintain closer relationships with customers; and adding online tutorials for its clients and potential customers. The company is in the process of establishing its own YouTube video channel it will populate with those educational videos, VanHorn says.

In the press release announcing his hiring and the other changes Gilman Brothers is going through, VanHorn declares his plans to more than double the company’s sales in less than four years – not the kind of bold prediction typically found in a press release.

“The reason why that was put in there is there really hasn’t been a strong voice for the Gilman company in recent years, so it was a statement intended to tell the market what we’re going to do and how big we’re going to grow,” he says.

Other staff changes include Mark Pimentel being promoted to director of operations; Cyrus Gilman being named vice president of business development; and Ari Luna promoted to inside sales representative.

Phil Gray, who’s been with Gilman Brothers more than two decades, has moved with his family to Florida where he’ll take over the company’s southeast sales territory until he decides to retire, VanHorn says. He adds that he and others will continue to tap into the font of knowledge Gray has accumulated over the years.

Evan Gilman, president of The Gilman Brothers Co., says in a statement that the changes the company has made are an investment into its continued long-term success.

“The staff in place is the strongest in company history and we are now poised for explosive growth,” writes Gilman, grandson of company founder Nathan Gilman.

Nathan Gilman first launched Gilman Brothers in 1897 as a bedding company, and its decades-long relationship with the city it is in began when he bought out the Bozrahville (now Gilman) Manufacturing Co. and moved all his operations there. After having to rebuild after a fire completely destroyed the factory, Nathan’s three sons took up the company business, later converting it into a flocking company.

Having survived the country’s deep recession in the early 1980s, Gilman Brothers turned into the foamboard manufacturer it is today. One of Nathan’s sons, Charles, is 93 and still sits on the board of directors, VanHorn says.

VanHorn says the latest transformation of the company is simply continuing what it’s been doing throughout its history: taking advantage of new technologies and new materials as they come along. And he adds that he is energized about its future.

“There are various companies on our radar, and as our sales increase we will have companies in our crosshairs that we’re going to approach,” VanHorn says.

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