Seizing Opportunity in a Transforming Market

VanTran Transformers
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

When it comes to liquid-filled distribution class transformers, the name VanTran Transformers is synonymous with quality, manufacturing speed, and agility. The company’s bespoke design, manufacturing, and service capabilities are standalone in the market and bring peace of mind and results to customers around the globe.

VanTran Transformers came to be in 1963 when Al Bolin and some of his electrical engineering colleagues recognized that a movement was underway in the electrical market that left a gap in transformer offerings.

Increased urbanization at the time meant that utilities required large capacity kilovolt-ampere (kVA) distribution class transformers for specific underground use and VanTran Transformers saw an opportunity to meet this new demand with best-in-class custom solutions and exceptional service, which has been the company’s way ever since.

Built upon this principle, and now led by Al’s son, Don Bolin, who climbed the ranks to CEO, VanTran Transformers remains true to its roots, answering the call of its customers and the market by making the most of the opportunities that arise.

Anticipating demand
When VanTran Transformers was established, there was a belief that utilities would be its primary market, but this was not the case. Instead, it found success mainly in the commercial and industrial sectors. Utilities required high-volume, low-cost, low-price offerings, which was not its niche.

Instead, VanTran’s leadership remained focused on investing in its capacity to produce unique solutions, a commitment that continues to this day. Douglas Getson, Director of Sales and Marketing, explains that the company recently underwent a round of investment that expanded its capacity to deliver the quality and service the market has come to expect from it.

“We could try to mirror the large North American suppliers and build high volume production lines, but what the market still needs is unique solutions, and that’s hard to do when you construct a facility to build the same types of product with little variation. Instead, we built our manufacturing process around the ability to be unique across each order,” he says.

“The company has doubled its capacity over the last four years. The demand for transformers in North America is quite high for us right now, so we’re one of a handful of suppliers that can currently still deliver into next year.”

VanTran transformers are used in a variety of applications and environments around the world, including onshore and offshore oil and gas, which means the needs of its customers are as varied as the transformers themselves. Despite this diversity and Van Tran’s recent growth, its processes are lean and streamlined to the customers’ benefit.

Agility reigns
“We’re not encumbered with layers of management that take time to assess opportunities,” Getson points out. This is important to Getson and VanTran customers alike. “From the point of request to providing the solution and an offer, to placing an order, to us delivering drawings, and to then going to manufacturing is a very short cycle, which is difficult to reproduce in a large company just because of their sheer size.”

Getson shares the process. “First we make investments in our assets, putting in infrastructure that will more than cover our needs for several years,” he says. And, as is the case with the most recent round of investments, he says that the plan then is to focus on staffing the expansion.

With its primary product lines (petroleum-based and biodegradable vegetable-based, ester-filled distribution-class transformers with up to 10 megavolt-amperes (MVA) rating and primary voltages up to 35 kilovolts) VanTran designs and manufactures transformers for a very discerning clientele. These are the clients that require the speed and agility that only a manufacturer of Van Tran’s size can offer.

“We’re not dealing with mom-and-pop businesses, we’re dealing with large international corporations, and I would say they appreciate us because they know that large companies are difficult to maneuver, so the last thing they need is their supplier to be difficult to maneuver through,” Getson says. VanTran’s agility in adapting to changes in the market is something that clients value.

Poised for opportunity
While pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions were the demise of many companies across industries and sectors, VanTran Transformers saw the opportunity to grow and did so exponentially, making strategic investments in its capacity to take advantage of a changing marketplace.

Infrastructure investment—like the kind that took place in the 1960s leading to the formation of VanTran Transformers—is set to enhance the trajectory of the company once again, as the needs of aging infrastructure in the United States are now beyond critical. As Getson notes, “It’s akin to what’s happening in general construction where cities just need a facelift. You could say that’s similar to what’s happening in large industrial complexes.”

Multifamily residential construction is also driving demand, and despite any anticipated slowdowns in residential construction, the deficit of a million housing units in the United States will keep that demand strong for some time.

Getson also highlights opportunities in the renewables market and the electrification of North America, “Governmental investments are expanding solar and then, on top of that, anything battery-related, even at the utility level, is driving demand for transformers.” He notes that VanTran Transformers is prepared to absorb any demand.

Additionally, the transition to electric vehicles (EV) will remain a driver for large infrastructure investments for at least a decade to ensure that there is sufficient access to charging stations to power the transportation networks and vehicles of the future, as well as industries like oil and gas which are also undergoing electrification.

Calculated growth
In addition to changes in the markets it serves, there are opportunities for VanTran Transformers thanks to market consolidation. From a product standpoint, Getson says, “We are looking at developing additional product lines to serve underserved requirements,” once again staying true to the core of the company’s founding and operation.

He adds, “There are fewer manufacturers of unique transformers because of the larger players shedding those and going more toward mass production because there’s that kind of demand. This is going to create opportunities for product offerings that may not be mass market, but there’s a need for them.”

In doing so, VanTran Transformers continues on its chosen way: addressing a gap in the marketplace with specially engineered custom transformers. While the market has transformed, the company has stayed true to its high-level clients, constantly refining the business model that’s served it so well for six decades and does still.

“We’re not looking to grow haphazardly; this company has been around since the 60s because it knows who it is, and even though we’re growing it, we’re growing it based on what’s made it successful over the years and scaling that up,” says Getson of the company’s future.

With a keen business sense and a strong leadership team, VanTran continues to strategically select its moments to grow, identifying opportunities, anticipating demand, and reaching a broader market with products and services for an upper range of customers, more than meeting market requirements for liquid distribution class transformers and service.

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