After a stint as a Washington, D.C. securities lawyer, James Cullen was searching for something fun to do. Nearly 20 years later, after one almost-published novel and a short-lived export-trading business, the Pinehurst native finally had his "Aha" moment while walking his dog in 2000.
"Every other car had a Martha's Vineyard or Maryland Club parking sticker," he recalls of the bumpers he passed.
He would make stickers, he decided. Lots and lots of stickers.
Now, eight years later, Cullen's life is dominated by friendly black and white, oval-shaped decals that his Baltimore-based company, Universal Export Ltd, produces right here in town. You know the ones: "OC" for Ocean City, "BB" for Bethany Beach, and now even dog silhouettes with breed abbreviations so proud canine owners can project their pet pride to the world.
The design actually originated from the Convention on Road Traffic adopted by the United Nations in 1949, which required vehicles in Europe to display an oval sticker indicating their country of origin (like GB for Great Britain or D for Deutschland). Cullen took that idea and adapted it to popular vacation sites and has expanded it into much more. Today, the company produces well over 100,000 stickers a year.
With over a thousand designs and counting-plus a design-your-own sticker feature on its website universalexportltd.com-the company is thriving and Cullen couldn't be more excited. "It's a way of saying I've been to Martha's Vineyard. I have a black lab. My kid plays soccer. It's a little more sophisticated than a bumper sticker. It's really a way of defining yourself," he says.
And defining your dogs, as the heavy-breathers are the new stars of Cullen's stickers these days. And now that folks are designing their own, the possibilities of bumper sticker pride are truly endless.
"It's infinite," he says with a chuckle. "There's no limit to the designs we can do."