If it ain't broken, don't fix it. I'm sure you've heard that old saw before. If it is broken, maybe throw away the old model and create a new one.
That's the case of the Elastomer Products Group of the Rubber Product Manufacturers Association. This organization of non-tire rubber goods processors and affiliated suppliers has a long, storied past, and also a long, precipitous decline. Now the EPG members are breaking off from the RMA. That's not a bad thing, for either group.
The RMA division's slippage isn't unique among trade groups nor anyone's particular fault. Blame the migration of production abroad and competition from overseas that cut the number of U.S. rubber processors. Blame the inability for the RMA, although not from a lack of trying, to fashion an organization that non-tire manufacturers embraced.
It comes down to this: Do the member companies that support the RMA get what they pay for? For the non-tire sector, apparently most think not.
The RMA always has been a group with two constituencies: tire manufacturers and everyone else. The dues structure, based on sales, meant the big tire companies paid most of the bills. They needed, still need, a trade group to represent them in Washington, and the RMA catered to them, as well it should.
I remember years ago an RMA president—a bit in his cups at a cocktail party—whining to me about how he had to bow and scrape in front of Goodyear. A couple of times the tire makers flexed their muscles and forced changes in the RMA structure to better suit themselves.
Looking at a 1990 RMA directory, I note the group had seven divisions, a number of subdivisions, and something like 160 member companies. The rubber industry is vastly different from just 20 years ago, and the RMA reflects it.
Of course, there are fewer tire firms today, and all major tire manufacturers in the U.S., foreign-owned or not, are in the RMA. How many non-tire rubber processors are members? Make that 23, with 14 suppliers also in the fold.
The RMA tried again and again to revive its non-tire group. Eventually all the non-tire companies were moved into the Molded & Extruded Products Division, which became the General Products Group. The RMA annual meeting, traditionally a huge event in Washington that drew government officials, policy wonks and everyone important to the industry in the Beltway, was combined with the annual non-tire meeting at a resort outside of D.C.
Ultimately some of the larger non-tire companies decided RMA membership wasn't worth the expense. When the GPG was renamed Elastomer Products Group, with the hope thermoplastic elastomer processors would join, it seemed an act of desperation.
I suspect the change now is exactly what is needed. A clean slate, a mission and dues structure that makes sense for any non-tire rubber company, from the 20-employee shop to the $100-plus-million manufacturer. The principals behind the change want to keep some affiliation with the RMA, and that can be smart, too—tire and non-tire companies still have many mutual interests.
This can be a beginning, rather than an ending.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.