One thing that's always been true about the rubber industry is that there's room for all shapes and sizes, from billion dollar tire makers to mom-and-pop shops with 25 employees.
And that's not going to change anytime soon, according to industry insiders.
"I think there are technologies that are a better fit for a small company," said Will Mars, president of Endurica L.L.C. "When you have a small enterprise, you have the ability to have complete control over the development path that you are taking. We can make decisions much more quickly."
But when you're with a larger company, there are other competing interests that can get in the way of any individual initiative, he said. "I think that's the reason big companies can't move as fast is because there are so many competing interests.
"In a small company we're interested in one thing, and we better do it or we're going to die. You make the decisions faster. You pivot. You get the thing working. You make the customer happy."
Bonnie Stuck, president of Akron Rubber Development Laboratory Inc., said there will be room for niche players in such areas as injection molding, where there are a lot of players to process large amounts of material. But there still are some applications that are high tech but low volume, the kind of business large molders often won't touch.
Joe Walker, global technology director of materials and laboratories for Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, said there always will be a need for niche players, but that is driven by the different market segments.
"A successful fabricator has to play in multiple market segments, and he has to decide the net worth of each market segment through their impact on their overall business plan," Walker said. "If someone wants to get into automotive, they have to accept a certain amount of cost that comes from just sitting at that table. There's a different quality system and different expectations of the marketplace."
The best niche firms find the space that will satisfy a need that a large player isn't interested in serving, said Anthony Mariniello, ChemSpec technical sales manager. "And we need to have those smaller niche players to create some specialties that a number of our products require on a day-to-day basis."
Big players may only be interested in moving multiple truckloads of product at a time, and won't be interested in making 100 or 500 pounds of something. "But sometimes that's all we need to make that product. The niche person will find out how to do that and how to manufacture it," Mariniello said.
Smaller firms often are more responsive, he added, providing superior customer service. "That's because your business for the small business is very important. It might be their whole livelihood, whereas to some of the big players, you're one of many, many people."