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Editorial: N.A. custom mixers can find success, big or small

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The custom mixing sector in North America does a good job mirroring the industry it serves, that being those firms that manufacture rubber products.

It comes complete with a huge player doing its best to consolidate as much of the industry as it can. A middle tier, where the main firm looks for organic growth but isn't active on the acquisition front. And a large group of smaller players, each striving to fill a niche based on a particular market, geography or technology.

Hexpol is clearly at the top of the custom mixing heap in North America, even though it was a name that didn't exist on the continent a decade ago. The company grew quickly through a series of strategic acquisitions that brought it such North American names as Thona, Gold Key, Excel Polymers (itself previously Colonial and M.A. Hanna), Robbins, Kardoes and Portage Precision Polymers, among others.

The result is the proverbial “gorilla in the room,” with Hexpol posting $827 million of its total $1.3 billion in 2014 sales in the NAFTA region, nearly all of that in compounding. Yet with its size dwarfing the other players in the market, officials from the firm repeatedly say the key to its success is drawing on the resources of being a global firm but acting like a small supplier when dealing with customers.

The middle tier is best exemplified by AirBoss of America's rubber compounding business. Its 2014 compounding operation will clock in somewhere around the $135 million range. It doesn't look for acquisitions on the custom mixing side, preferring to add to its facilities as needed. It touts itself as the “worry-free” option of the custom mixing business.

And the smaller players say that customers want to have a choice of suppliers. They say they are more flexible, can make changes in a hurry, and customers can contact them at any time.

Of course, the one constant from all three levels is focusing on serving the customer. If a supplier can do that, then it can thrive, no matter which rung on the ladder it occupies.