Tire Curing Bladders L.L.C. has almost 18 months as a stand-alone business under its belt, and its owners are happy with the way the company has progressed in the short span.
Now they're looking for ways to grow with new customers. Co-owners Vernon Almon and Mark Nutt plan to do that the old-fashioned way, with a lot of work, innovation and customer service.
Customers for tire curing bladders they would like to bring on board include most large tire manufacturers, including Michelin, Bridgestone/Firestone and Continental Tire North America.
It already has Goodyear as a customer. The tire maker decided to exit the bladder business in 1998, and Tire Curing Bladders became a prime supplier to the company, Almon said.
Now ``we'd like to get the business of those who make their own and those that have bladders imported,'' he said at ITEC 2006, held in Akron Sept. 12-14.
It's not a far-fetched idea, the owners figure. They said that tire manufacturers that make their own bladders can cut production costs if they switch to the Little Rock, Ark., company, while those that import the products from overseas can reduce transportation and other expenses.
Almon and Nutt bought the tire curing bladder manufacturing firm in April 2005 from Pirelli Tire North America. ``We didn't make a lot of noise about it at the time because we had our hands full,'' Almon said.
Nutt had been a consultant to Tire Curing Bladders while Almon was general manager before Pirelli decided to sell the business.
Both are involved in the daily operation of the company's 200,000-sq.-ft. plant in Little Rock. Nutt concentrates on the financial end while Almon focuses on sales. However, each is involved in other facets as well.
Tire Curing Bladders had been part of Armstrong Tire Co., which was purchased by Pirelli in 1988. Since then, Pirelli has been selling off parts of the business. The tire bladder operation was the last remaining Armstrong business until Nutt and Almon acquired it last year.
``We thought it was an outstanding opportunity for us because this is all we do,'' Nutt said. ``We had a wealth of experience, including six engineers in place. So there was already a tremendous infrastructure in place when Pirelli decided to spin the business off.''
The company continues to have an ongoing relationship with Pirelli, he said.
Almon said the firm is a full service operation. It mixes, extrudes, cures, packages, ships and provides technical service. ``For instance, we can take Goodyear's molds and make their product for them. And we have our own molds. We do it both ways.''
The company offers a variety of compounds, he said, and it will custom-make them as well. It all depends on what the customer wants.
Over the last year, the company has boosted capacity with a new press and other machinery. It makes bladders that range from 4 to 160 pounds and is considering increasing its ability to produce off-the-road bladders, which would take it up to 250 pounds.
``I think our future is phenomenal,'' Nutt said. ``We have customers all over the globe. In fact, 25 percent of our business is export. If you look at the demographics, you see that tire production is moving offshore and we have a strong footprint in offshore manufacturing, even some Chinese manufacturers. So we have some exposure there. We feel that as a stand-alone company, the development of our new web site- www.tirebladders.com-will enhance our business.''