Established less than 10 years ago, Bulned Ltd. is a young Bulgarian limestone producer that is paving a road to success. Founded in 1998, the company operates three quarries near the village of Varbeshnitsa, which is approximately 10 miles northeast of the town of Vratza and 50 miles north of Sofia in Bulgaria. The company supplies blocks, slabs and cut-to-size pieces, and is steadily building its international customer base.

Michael Petkov, a resident of Vratza, possesses sole ownership of Bulned Ltd. He started the business as a 50/50 partnership with a Dutch partner, but in 1999, the partner withdrew and Petkov took over 100% of the shares. “Michael is a young and dynamic entrepreneur from Vratza, who is committed to create a long-term and up-to-date industry with great international potential in his hometown,” said Werner Reinhardt, the Dutch marketing director of Bulned.

The main source of revenue for the company is its frost-resistant Vratza limestone, a warm material ranging in color from white and light beige to cream. Although Bulned has only been quarrying the material since 1998, the Vratza stone itself has been around for more than 100 years, and it has been used for architecture around the world.

Bulned is operating its private Vratza stone quarry with a monthly capacity of approximately 14,000 cubic feet. Additionally, it recently opened two quarries to begin extraction of Vratza shellstone (Donau Muschelkalk) and Vratza marble. These materials have a soft cream color, and the company offers blocks from two- to six-shaped sides.

The company's factory is located in the industrial region of Vratza, and sits on an approximate 43,000-square-foot private parcel of land. It is fully equipped with state-of-the-art machinery from Italy and Turkey. This includes gangsaws, bridge saws, a slab polishing line, guillotines for split-faced stone and gantry cranes. The company adheres to the latest EU-Standards on environment and health safety with a complete wastewater clarification plant.

In total, the company produces 86,000 to 108,000 square feet of slabs on a monthly basis, according to Reinhardt. The slabs tend to average approximately 110 x 67 inches with a thickness of 3⁄4, 1 1⁄4, and 1 1⁄2 inches and larger. Surface finishes include: diamond sawn, honed, polished, antiqued, bushhammered, sandblasted and split-face. While blocks and slabs currently comprise a large percentage of Bulned's business, the company also produces tiles and decorative elements that can be used for flooring and wall coverings, panels for ventilated external cladding, columns, balusters, windowsills and fireplaces.

Investing in the future

In February, Bulned installed its brand new production line for calibrated slabs. With this addition to its factory, Bulned, in cooperation with StoneAdvise b.v., the Dutch design and engineering specialist for ventilated external cladding, will now be able to meet the strict requirements for manufacturing calibrated panels.

These panels, with a thickness of only 3⁄4 inch, are suited for ventilated external cladding on residential as well as commercial projects with wood or metal stud inner leafs, reported Bulned. “Loading approximately 4,520 square feet instead of the usual 1,800 square feet per 20-foot container will certainly contribute to Bulned's rapidly expanding sales on global markets,” said Reinhardt. “Already state-of-the-art in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, several limestone pilot projects have been carried out, are under construction, and more are going to follow with this unique system.”

The company also plans to make near future investments in additional gangsaws, semi-automatic lines for surface treatment and CNC-equipped cutting lines. “This will ensure that Bulned is able to cope with the rapidly increasing global demand,” said Reinhardt.

Expanding globally

According to Reinhardt, he was hired in 2000 to explore the international market for Vratza limestone. “Michael [Petkov] and myself were brought together through our mutual friend, Mitko Damianov, a Bulgarian architect who studied at the Delft-TU in The Netherlands, and who is now living in Vratza again,” he explained. “Mitko has been working with Michael on the Bulned project for nine years. Our research resulted in growing international orders and production growth, mainly due to customers from Austria, Germany and The Netherlands, to start with. Lately, we have started to open business in Scandinavia, the Baltics, Poland and Hungary. Furthermore, we get inquiries from the Far and Middle East, the U.S., Canada and China.”

Recently, Bulned has supplied Vratza limestone for projects such as 700 urban villas in The Netherlands, the Sofia Hilton Hotel, the Vienna Leopold Museum, the Parkstadt Swabing offices in Munich, Germany, and a number of other public and private buildings. Because of this growing market, a decision was recently made to open an international marketing and sales office -- Bulned International Sales Office (BIS) -- as a separate unit operating with a network of stone specialists around the world.

“Herewith, we will have a strategic position to operate on the world market,” said Reinhardt. “BIS will act as a worldwide marketing and sales channel on behalf of Bulned Ltd. quarries and production plant. A major objective of the BIS office is to continue to strongly promote the three types of Vratza stone internationally, and streamline international sales and delivery operations of the Bulgarian production plant.

“Our goal is to put Vratza stone back on the 'world stone map' where

it belongs,”

Reinhardt concluded. “We want to bring it back to where it was 100 or 200 years ago, as witnessed by the old cities of Vienna, Budapest, Munich, Berlin and Paris.”