The merging of Rubbermaid Inc. with Newell Co. takes the shine off yet another famous name in the rubber industry. In some ways, the most inaccurate name in the business. A stickler would rename Rubbermaid ``Plasticmaid,'' since its products overwhelmingly are made of plastics. Rubber goods account for no more than 5 percent of Rubbermaid's sales—an estimated $117 million. That's a loose estimate, too, since no Rubbermaid executive seems to know exactly where rubber stands in the company's scheme of things. Rubbermaid, like many manufacturers, is concerned about the end product, not the material used to make it.
Still, sales of that level place Rubbermaid as the 54th-largest manufacturer in the rubber product industry in the U.S. And if you rate by name recognition, Rubbermaid has few peers.
Operating in a field loaded with competition, the Rubbermaid name is golden. Indeed, some stores have their own ``Rubbermaid'' sections, a testament to Rubbermaid's household-name status.
Alas, the tenuous connection Rubbermaid today has to the rubber business will be strained even further when the firm joins with Newell. That 5 percent of sales will slip even lower when the Rubbermaid rubber goods are absorbed by the new corporate entity, Newell Rubbermaid Inc. Newell makes lots of well-known products (such as Levolor blinds, Rolodex organizers and Eberhard-Faber pens). But it's no rubber company.
The rubber industry has only a handful of brand names that consumers would quickly recognize, and most of those are from the tire side. Even there, some of the best-known names (Kelly, Uniroyal and Goodrich) have devolved into mere brand status, rather than existing as independent companies or subsidiaries.
For people in the rubber business, the change at Rubbermaid is yet another passing to mourn.