Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. putting its rubber roofing operations on the auction block? Unbelievable.
It's like a runner giving up just short of the finish line. For a decade Firestone Building Products Co. has done everything it could to win first place in the rubber roofing race. And now, with a victory assured, with its competitors (Carlisle SynTec Systems excluded) mostly vanquished, it bows out.
And vanquish its opponents it did. When Firestone entered the roofing field, big-time, back in the early 1980s, the market was boiling with competition. Goodyear, General Tire, Colonial Rubber Works, Uniroyal Inc., Plymouth Rubber Co. Inc., Gates Engineering, J.P. Stevens, Manville-it seemed everyone with calendering capacity was bent on grabbing some of the roofing glory.
Up until then it was all Carlisle, as far as rubber roofing systems went. The company built the market through its high-quality production and inspection standards.
Double-digit growth in the roofing membrane market lured other manufacturers into the field, Firestone among them. Price-cutting ran amok as companies fought for market share, and Firestone was a leader in the we-will-not-be-undersold posture.
Firestone-and later, Bridgestone Corp., after it bought the company-spent the investment dollars needed to support its increased market share. While companies like Goodyear and Colonial bowed out of the roofing field, Firestone stayed and now runs a profitable roofing business.
But today the parent company needs cash, and the roofing division is for sale.
Certainly, the rubber roofing field has not reached the lofty predictions of 10 years ago-forecasts that by now it would be a $1 billion business. It's more like a $600 million market today.
And while the growth in the roofing membrane market has slowed, I can't believe that demand for tires has a higher growth rate.
Apparently, the business is just too small, its prospects too limited and the need for Bridgestone/Firestone to reduce its $2.5 billion debt too important for the company to hang on to the roofing operation.
Such is business. But if Bridgestone/Firestone ran the country, it might sell Louisiana to help pay down the national debt.
And, heck, I like Louisiana.