STOCKTON, Calif.—Those who are new to the rubber industry may find the vast array of applications and end markets intimidating.
But that's not the case with Eric Blazej, who has four years in the rubber business and is Proco Products national industrial distribution sales manager. The Stockton-based firm makes rubber, PTFE and ducting expansion joints, along with goods such as stainless steel braided hose and duck bill check valves and other rubber products.
The wide range of end users and applications is long. Proco Products end up in such demanding uses as steel mills, pulp and paper, power plants, wastewater treatment plants, chemicals, food processing, marine and mining.
And that was a big change for Blazej, who for the 12 years prior to joining Proco had sold similar products but with a company that focused on the HVAC sector.
"When you're on the HVAC side, you have to worry about hot water. You have to worry about cold water. And you have to worry about steam and condensate. So you have four," he quipped.
By contrast, when working with pulp and paper mills, there are multiple types of media running through the piping systems. Sometimes it includes water, other times it's solid. There are some products where, if there is only 5 percent of a certain chemical in the water, one type of rubber will work. But when it goes much higher, a totally different elastomer is needed because the original will no longer work.
"You have to be a lot more versatile in your product knowledge as well as specific end user knowledge, because each application is so unique and different," Blazej said. "This side of the business really keeps you on your toes and on your feet because you're required to obtain and hold a lot more information and knowledge."
So far, so good
His father had recruited him to work at his previous place of employment. But, after eight years, he was looking for something different, and his dad had a relationship with Proco.
"They were looking for someone with my skill set and looking to do what I wanted to do. So it was a perfect match, and I agreed to join them," he said. "I am learning something new every day in terms of different types of applications and installations."
During the pandemic, with the inability for the sales staff to go onsite to deal with customers directly, Blazej said Proco—like many others—shifted to online training and meetings. And the results were a bit surprising.
"We've noticed that our sales have been increasing with less travel because we're able to schedule meetings with a larger amount of people than before, where we had to travel from location to location," he said.
Proco Products sells 100 percent of its goods through distribution, and Blazej said the relationship with the distributors is a major reason for the firm's success. "The distributor is our eyes and ears, and has the relationship with the plant manager and the end user," he said. "We value their work and their dedication, so we do not go behind their back. We refer all leads through distribution."
Rob Coffee, the firm's sales manager, has been in the industrial piping arena for more than 35 years, and Blazej said Coffee has been a big help to him during his short time in the rubber business.
"He has a great grasp of the different end users, so where all of our products are located throughout the country, he's been there," Blazej said. "He has extensive product knowledge, understanding of technical questions and applications in regard to our products. He's really helped me understand the lay of the land and how to increase business."
Blazej sees himself staying in the rubber industry long term, citing potential growth opportunities, especially at Proco. He also has gained a deep appreciation for not only the people making the products, but the process that goes into it and the impact rubber goods have across industries and geographies.
"It gives me a lot of pleasure knowing that my products and services are going into something that so many people can utilize in their daily lives," he said.
Blazej also is looking forward to becoming more versatile, resilient and familiar with all of Proco's applications and end users. "I'm a person who really thrives and enjoys knowledge and learning, so in the future, I look forward to more opportunities to be able to travel and understand the full breadth of our products and all the different opportunities we have with it," he said.
Those who aren't familiar with the rubber industry should look at what it has to offer, he added. And they shouldn't be scared off by the fact that there are a good percentage of older professionals in the business, but instead should look at that as an opportunity
Newcomers, Blazej said, can learn from the veterans and be the source of that knowledge as the industry passes the torch to younger generations. Knowing where the plants are, who is selling to them, and where the applications are within the plant can give someone a big advantage.
"If they have all of that stored and no one else does, you're going to become one of the most valuable resources moving forward," Blazej said.