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Rubber manufacturing in America: Rubber band maker promotes U.S. products

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Alliance Rubber Co. is headquartered in the U.S. and does its manufacturing here.
Alliance Rubber Co. is headquartered in the U.S. and does its manufacturing here.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Alliance Rubber Co. always has bled red, white and blue—headquartered and manufacturing in the U.S., owned by an American, employing Americans.

If customers didn't already know that about the U.S.'s largest rubber band manufacturer, Alliance is making sure they do now.

“It always has been the case with our product displays and packaging (that its goods are American-made),” said Jason Risner, marketing manager of the Hot Springs-based company. In 2012, the manufacturer redoubled its effort to get that message out.

For example, a year ago Alliance joined with Made in USA Certified to launch a patriotic promotion called the “We Can Make It in America” Challenge. The partners asked consumers to go online at Alliance's website—also accomplished by scanning the QR code on packages of Alliance products—and pledge to spend a dollar a day on American-made goods to help create a million American jobs.

People making the pledge were entered in a contest that netted the winner a trip for four, airline and accommodations included, to Washington, D.C., for July 4 celebrations, as well as a visit to the Smithsonian Institution.

Risner said the total pledges amounted to $1.5 million. A woman from South Carolina won the random drawing and planned to take her two sons to the event.

Win win for firm

Alliance was a winner, too, with the campaign. It was featured on Fox Business News Network's “Manufacturing Marvels” show, profiling the firm's history and discussing its Made in America pledge campaign.

The success of the pledge project encouraged Alliance to run a similar program on Facebook. Its “Band Together: Buy American” contest repeats the dollar-a-day pledge, and the winner this time gets another Americana experience: An all-expense paid trip for four to the U.S. National Park of his or her choice.

“We're getting a very good response,” Risner said, so far in what has been by word of mouth. “It's driven about 3,500 more followers to our Facebook site.”

The campaign started in January, and Alliance plans to launch its major promotion of the site within a month.

Emphasizing its manufacturing roots in the U.S. makes good business sense for a company that doesn't have the huge cost advantage enjoyed by many rubber band makers overseas, Risner said.

“We can't compete on price at all. A lot of overseas competitors make their rubber bands right at the natural rubber plantations, so they have access to cheaper rubber, cheaper labor,” he said.

Bonnie Swayze, Alliance president and owner, has noted her company has 55 competitors in China and Thailand alone that pay $1.50 an hour for labor.

Alliance has ways to counter that disadvantage.

“Most of our sales come from relationships with our customers, and the quality of our products,” Risner said. Alliance can custom make rubber bands for specific needs, and it provides brighter colors and longer-lasting performance because of its proprietary manufacturing processes.

“We also have softer stretch, easier on the hands products for many applications,” he said.

Typically sold at a premium compared to foreign-made products, Alliance's bands still find their way into retail big box stores, such as Office Depot, Staples and Walmart.

Alliance serves a number of distinct markets, Risner said: stationary, paper and packaging business, newspapers, agriculture, floral, ad specialties and government.

“Most of our business is steady, repeat sales. We're well known in the industry, and have a real dedication to innovation,” he said.

Risner said Alliance advertises—and always mentions its American roots—in various publications that reach the audience in its particular markets. Besides print ads, it has a number of videos targeting specific sectors, as well as one available on YouTube titled “Alliance Rubber Co.—Proud to Say Made In The USA,” featuring many long-term employees.

Getting on top of the current trends is vital to a company that makes consumer products, and Alliance is doing well with a couple of items now, Risner said. Looming—creating artistic bracelets by combining rubber bands together—is all the rage with the kids.

Alliance's contributions to the fad are looming kits. “They are very popular. We've been going gangbusters with them since last August. They were a huge Christmas craze,” he said. “They will peak eventually and come down, but they are still very popular.”

The Alliance product is only sold at Walmart.

Another popular item for children is the Eraselet wrist band, Risner said. The colorful bands, which include printing of child-friendly images from monkeys to tractors, actually are erasers. The child doesn't have to search for an eraser; it's right on their wrist

Alliance's 150 employees at its 150,000-sq.-ft. plant in Hot Springs make 2,200 individual products. Among them are glow-in-the-dark, scented, silicone and printed bands. Risner said a new product that is doing well is the digital image wristband, produced by a patented process of imprinting four-color digital graphics.

The process turns a rubber wristband into a mini-billboard. They are used to promote events, logos, sponsors, dates, special offers and other items.

Risner said the fact the company is a small business, owned and managed by a woman, and operates in the U.S. with American workers opens doors. The firm does much government work, for example, providing specialty bands used by the military, in aerospace and the postal service.

American-made also translates to foreign sales for Alliance. Again, it's product quality that makes the difference, Risner said.

“You don't think about it if you live in the U.S., but American products are seen throughout the world as great quality products. Customers in China and Mexico put a premium on American-made products,” he said.

The company's export sales are growing, Risner said. Indeed, last year the firm won the Governor's Award for Excellence in Global Trade in Arkansas, in the medium manufacturer category. Swayze has said Alliance supplies more than 2,000 customers in 28 countries.