By Katie Heisler, student ambassador and business administration student
The Globe University-Wausau campus Small Business Management class had the opportunity to take a tour of Mullins Cheese plant. The tour was fascinating, but our class received much more than a tour — we were able to interview one of the owners. Bill Mullins took the time to give us a little history of the business and what advances and improvements they have made to get to where they are today.
In 1970, Mullins used about 2,000 pounds of milk a day to make cheese, which came from about 106 farms. Today, between their two plants, they use about 5 million pounds of milk a day which comes from roughly 770 farms around Wisconsin.
As years went by and technology advanced, so did Mullins. One of their plants has continued to expand, with rooms added to the original structure as needed. As the building expanded, so did the number of farms sending milk each day.
Technology has been a great asset to Mullins, especially the advancements made to machinery, such as the new vats operation system. In 1988, the same vat would be used to mix, salt, fold and cut the cheese. Then they would have to empty the container, clean the vat, and start a new batch. This process would take about 3½ hours to complete a batch of cheese. Now they have new cook up vat tables, in which they can cook a batch of cheese and transfer it to the table while the other batches are finishing. Similar to an assembly line, it now only takes 30 minutes.
Technology has also allowed Mullins to take advantage of other product opportunities. In 1988, Mullins joined the whey industry because it was difficult to find ways to dispose of the byproduct. They would use it to feed animals and used it to spread on fields, but they couldn’t keep up with all the byproduct. Then they bought a machine that could separate the whey from the protein and sugar water (lactose). With these byproducts separated, Mullins could sell protein for sport nutritional products and the sugar water to candy companies and bakeries.
We were interested in how Mullins markets and promotes a business so large. We learned that they use radio ads to promote the retail store, and they also have a website. What took me by surprise was the fact that most of their promotion is by “word of mouth.” One incredible fact is that their retail store only makes up about 1 percent of the sales; the rest is made by the businesses that buy directly from Mullins.
Bill was asked the question, “Do you have any advice for running a business?” His response was, “Don’t be afraid to start out slow, and if you struggle but really like what you’re doing, you won’t even notice.”
Mullins has been family-run for three generations, and it is our hope that in about 10 years, another Small Business Management class from Globe University-Wausau will get the chance to meet the fourth generation.