New owners bring landmark business back to life

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer March 24, 2010 02:42 pm
Brad Sunderman, pictured here with his son Jack, recently took over as owner of Bulldog Enterprises in Island City. He minds the store full time; his wife, Teala, takes care of the books while keeping her job as a paralegal. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH photoISLAND CITY — A landmark Island City recreational vehicle parts and equipment store that closed after its founder died in 2009 has been born again, with new owners taking back the name and doing business as before.

Bulldog Enterprises, begun by Don Hamann in 1984, recently became the property of Brad and Teala Sunderman, Union County natives who make their home in Island City.

The business at 10020 Highway 82 has always been  the place to find RV components ranging from electrical sockets to plumbing hook-ups, to windows and doors, to carpets and upholstery and more.

The Sundermans plan to keep it that way, though there are some changes in the product line coming up.

“Right now I’m cleaning up the showroom, getting the new stuff up front and the used stuff toward the back,” Brad said.

Hamann was born and raised in Union County and  was a businessman most of his life.

Before Bulldog, he farmed, was a part-owner of the Hamman-Anson Ski Shop, and, with his brothers Everett and Raymond, owned a business called Hamann Trading.

He collected antique coin-operated games and machines, and old cars. His habit of collecting was a factor when he started Bulldog.

Over the years, Hamann built a large inventory of RV parts, dealing in both new and used merchandise.

Much was on display in the show room up front; much more was stored away in large rooms to the back of the Bulldog building.

The business became a favorite haunt for RV owners who do their own repairs and service.

People who buy recreational vehicles tend to keep them for a long time. The older the rigs get, the harder it is to find replacement parts.

In Northeast Oregon, RV enthusiasts think of Bulldog when they’re looking for solutions to tricky problems, Sunderman said.

“I get guys who have old campers and want new upholstery or doors and windows. I get people doing conversion projects. Not long ago, I had a lady from Milton-Freewater come in who was turning her old conversion van into a camper.”

Sometimes, do-it-yourself types find an RV component that can be adapted to a non-RV project, he added.

“If you’re building a shed and need a window, you might find the right size here,” he said.

Though he’s still learning the business, Brad has figured out that his clientele hails from all over.

“I get as many people from out of town as from here,” he said. “Sometimes they’re do-it-your-selfers working on a big project, and other times, they come in just looking for a convenience item on the way out of town.”

The Sundermans are one of those couples who were born and raised in La Grande, went away for a time, and then decided there’s no place like home.

Brad graduated from La Grande High School in 1994, Teala in 1996. Both attended Oregon State University, with Brad majoring in history and Teala in sociology and public health. They married in 1999.

After college, they lived in Portland for about five years. In 2005, they became the parents of a son, Jack.

They moved back to La Grande in 2006. Brad got a job as as a tractor salesman for S&G Machinery, and Teala went to work as a paralegal for local attorney Cory Larvik.

 When they heard Bulldog, with its huge inventory of new and used RV components, was for sale, they gave serious consideration to becoming business people for the first time.

They bought the business from Hamann’s widow, Becki, closing the deal Feb. 20. Island City Trailer Sales, which offered trailer sales and service at the Bulldog location for about a year before the Sundermans bought in, moved out — and the business became Bulldog Enterprises again.

“I’ve always been interested in doing something for myself, but wondered if I had the heart to build something from the ground up,” Brad said. “This was something I felt I could do, and afford.”

Brad minds the store, and  Teala, who continues to work at her paralegal job, looks after the books. Brad’s father, Bob Sunderman, helps out with the business as well.

Brad said there might be room for an additional staff member later on.

“I do want to offer repair  services and I do have a shop,” he said. “I need to find someone interested and qualified to run it. I turn a lot of business away because I don’t have the repair option.”