NEWARK, Del.—Rick Miller had no plans to make the production of conveyor belts his career when, at the age of 19, he joined J.E. Rhoads & Sons Inc. It was a temporary stop, he figured.
Fast forward almost 40 years, and Miller still is in the industry operating his own belting company, Mid Atlantic Industrial Belting Inc.
He joined J.E. Rhoads in the maintenance department of its Wilmington, Del., factory in 1974 and eventually moved to the sales department. Miller left once but returned a few years later and remained with the firm until the Rhoads family sold the business in 1995 to a New Jersey company.
Why he remained in the belting industry is easy: he likes it and takes great pride in producing quality products for businesses in a niche market.
How he did it is a little more complex. But the simple explanation is he found out that working hard and persevering at something you really enjoy can pay big dividends in the long run.
It helps, too, to be in the right place at the right time.
That's what happened when he launched Mid Atlantic in 1995. And it happened again when he spotted two names in an online advertisement—Tanastic and Texalon—that had a long history of success and a reputation for quality in the belting industry.
He should know. Both had belonged to J.E. Rhoads when Miller was with the firm, so he was familiar with what they represented, and he knew they would fit well with his products at Mid Atlantic.
Miller learned the ownership of both had expired and quickly acquired them. The executive will incorporate both into Mid Atlantic's brands. That way, "they will again be attached to quality built paper mill cone drive belts," he said.
Mid Atlantic will team the two trademarks with the firm's Tannery Tuff brand name to market its line of paper mill drive belt products.
The company is a specialist in the manufacture of paper mill cone drive belting with a unique drive surface, Miller said, and because they are better than any other belts in the business, the quality reputation of the Tanastic and Texalon trademarks will fit well with them.
He pointed out that J.E. Rhoads was formed in 1702, and when it closed in 2009 it was considered the longest continuous operating company in the U.S. Miller attributed the firm's longevity to its products of exceptional quality, at least until it was sold to the New Jersey company.
Tanastic became a trademark for some J.E. Rhoads' belting lines in 1956, while Texalon belts were born in 1959.
"Rhoads paper mill belts were always well-made with the best materials," he said. "But after the sale, that stopped, and sub-par belts began to be sold under the brand names."
Filling the void
Miller left J.E. Rhoads following the sale and started Mid Atlantic. When the level of quality began to dip on the paper mill belts at the newly bought J.E. Rhoads, that's all he needed to build Mid Atlantic's name in the paper industry as a quality belt manufactured the way they once were at Rhoads.
"When they dropped the ball, I picked it up and ran with it," he said. He came up with the Tannery Tuff brand name, and the line took off. For almost two decades, Mid Atlantic has remained small but has thrived in a niche market.
"We figured we could fill a niche when we started Mid Atlantic because we were straying away from the standard belts and concentrating on quality belting," Miller said. "It has worked well. In May, we'll have been in business for 18 years. There are about 22 paper mills around the country that we service."
The company's facility spans about 6,000 square feet, and it employs six.
"We are small but can compete and are nimble because we are able to react quickly to customers' needs more quickly than our larger competitors," Miller said. "We offer quality that gives our customers a belt that stands apart from our competitors and that will stand tough against the rigors of any paper mill cone drive application."
He said there are numerous people in the industry that remember Tanastic and Texalon as quality belts, "and I want to carry on the quality the brand once stood for. Once again, they'll be attached to high quality built paper mill cone drive belts."
In addition to the paper mill cone drive belts it manufactures, Mid Atlantic carries Habasit and Fabreeka belts, along with food processing belts for any type of application.