The rubber gloves business is growing up. That's a good thing. Remember the rubber gloves market of about 15 years ago? It was boom time. The growing fear of HIV transmission turned a quiet business into a frenzy. Surgeon's gloves already held an important place in the medical field, but suddenly everyone connected with health care adopted rubber gloves—from dentists to nurses, from ophthalmologists to family practitioners.
The glove market quickly expanded outside the medical sector. The prevailing belief was anyone who came into human contact at the workplace eventually would be a glove user.
Rubber glove plants sprung up virtually overnight, particularly in Southeast Asia. A combination of low-cost labor, natural rubber availability and government desire to encourage manufacturing made conditions in the region ripe for the business.
Boom usually is followed by bust. It's been no exception in rubber gloves.
Glove use didn't become as widespread as speculators thought. Quality problems surfaced in fly-by-night operations, and the allergy problem with natural rubber worked to slow the business.
An earlier shakeout cut out many of the quick-buck artists. Now Phase II of the consolidation period has begun—perhaps with the merger of Allegiance and Cardinal, certainly with the buy-outs of LIG and now Safeskin.
Consolidation means fewer, larger players, with bigger research and development budgets, and the chance to reduce overcapacity. In the rubber glove business, a dose of maturity can be good medicine.