October 2002

Steve Ulmer -
Sprinklers and Sports


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Sprinklers, softball, and the Buffalo Bills are the three things that take up the most time in Steve Ulmer’s busy schedule. Being president of a company, assistant coach of his daughter’s softball team, and a devoted football fan doesn’t leave time for much else.
Born in Tonawanda and raised in Amherst, NY with his brother and two sisters, Ulmer has lived all 47 years of his life in Western New York. Educated in the Sweet Home school district, he went right to work after high school for the family business under his father’s watchful eye.

The birth of Davis-Ulmer Sprinkler Co., Inc. goes back to 1946 when Ulmer’s grandfather started the business. His father was the first employee and took over in 1972. At that time, Ulmer joined the team. His younger brother joined the firm four years later. “I always thought I was going to play for the Bills,” laughs Ulmer. However, at the age of 21, he became the youngest journeyman sprinkler fitter in the United States and began working to install sprinkler systems at job sites.

Ulmer started at an entry-level position, learning to fabricate pipes. He worked his way up in the company, from journeyman to design to sales. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s when his father decided to step down that Ulmer became president of the company. “I learned the fundamentals. I have experience in every position at every level,” said Ulmer, “That is the most important part of a leadership position. Firsthand knowledge and understanding of every job that everyone does.” Having experience at every role at some point in his career, Ulmer feels he earns more respect from his employees because he knows how to do the job right. “In sports, the Bills still practice fundamentals. The Sabres still practice skating and shooting,” he said. According to Ulmer, knowing the fundamentals of a job undoubtedly is the most important part.

Speaking of sports, Ulmer should have a business card made up with the title Professional Bills Fan under his name. A long time Bills enthusiast and follower of the team, Ulmer enjoys attending games and watching them play. When asked about his thoughts for the upcoming football season, “I’ll be happy if the Bills go 9-7 this year. They don’t need to be too good too fast,” he said, “I want to enjoy a slow, successful, methodical 10 year run again, but win the big one this time!”

When he’s not at work, you can find Ulmer on the softball field. He assistant coaches the Amherst Lightning 12 and under Girls Fast Pitch Softball Team, on which his 12 year old daughter Kerry plays. Last year, the team traveled to Ohio to play as 11-year-olds early in the season. “Ohio is a hotbed of softball activity and it gave us a good experience playing against higher level competition,” said Ulmer. “We didn’t do very well, however when the team came home they won regularly against all of the travel teams in Western New York.”

This year, as one of the premier teams in the Northeast they won a tournament in Youngstown, Ohio in April and 2 weeks later won another in Canton. They continued their winning ways at tournaments in Toledo and Pittsburgh and several local events as well. The team, made up of all 12-year-old girls, also played very competitively against 14 year old teams, according to Ulmer. “We like to play against a higher level of competition because it improves our skills,” he said. The team has played 76 games this year alone and travels almost every weekend to play. They are currently ranked 2nd in New York and 31st nationally. “We’ve played 7 games in a 48 hour stretch on the road. It’s softball and sleeping,” said Ulmer, “The ride home is always easier when we have a first place trophy in our hands.”

Somehow Ulmer does find the time to do a lot of other things. A founding member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, he served as vice president for 3 years under Rick Azar and later served as president for 3 more years. “As vice president, I had a lot more work, and as president, I had a lot more responsibility,” he explained. Ulmer attends many meetings year-round as the Hall of Fame prepares for its 12th annual induction ceremony this October 16th. “It evolved into quite a success story,” boasts Ulmer, “We had no money when we started, and now we have people soliciting us and campaigning to get their friends and family members in.”

Something of great importance to Ulmer is his family. His wife of 13 years, Betsy and their daughter Kerry, and his 21-year-old stepson, Nick all support him in his many activities. Nick currently attends Daniel Webster College, where he is studying to become a pilot, Kerry loves to play softball, basketball and field hockey.

In his spare time, Ulmer enjoys playing golf. He has also been a director of the Monday Quarterback Club and chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Golf Tournament, among other things.

“Once I asked a friend how to deal with the overwhelming need for corporate sponsorship,” said Ulmer, “He told me that whatever he did, he tried to do something for the kids. So, that’s what I try to do. I like to participate in charitable events and help out.”

In the future, Ulmer hopes to continue growing and expanding his company. Since 1988, they have opened 3 new offices in Corning, Rochester, and Jamestown. Sales have tripled in the past 6 years. They have operated in Syracuse since 1964.

“We plan to survive this economic downturn and come out on a positive note where we can continue expansion and growth, but, do it in a methodical way where we don’t spread ourselves too thin,” said Ulmer, “There is a philosophy: crawl before you walk and walk before you run. We’re taking it one step at a time.”

“Somebody has to grab the ball in Western New York and try to get the economy turned around,” he said, “Lots of people are throwing pennies when we need dollars for investments. From the mayor to the county executive to the senators, someone needs to realize the bad economic shape we are in. Instead of talking the talk, walk the walk and let’s get going. Buffalo and WNY is a great area to live and raise a family. We need jobs to keep people here.”

Erin Collins is a staff associate with Living Prime Time.


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