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Editorial: Small businesses are heart of rubber industry

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For many the face of the rubber industry is the large corporate conglomerates, the tire makers and rubber parts firms that boast global footprints, post billions in revenues and employ thousands of people.

But in many ways, the heart and soul of the rubber sector lies with the small shops. The entrepreneurs struggling to make their mark by filling custom orders, serving market niches and—most of all—through perseverance.

Mechanical Rubber Products Co. and its president and CEO, Cedric Glasper, are true examples of this. Located in New York's Hudson Valley region, Mechanical Rubber has a history dating back to the early 1940s.

Glasper started in the rubber industry as a telemarketer at Itran Rubber in New Jersey. He was good at it, and soon became marketing manager.

In 1995, Itran bought Mechanical Rubber, taking most of its useful assets and customers for itself, and offered to sell what was left to Glasper. Itran agreed to finance Glasper, who jumped at the chance to run his own shop.

He struggled to build up the business with meager resources and the bad reputation the name “Mechanical Rubber” has garnered in the industry. Glasper began to see growth ahead around 2007, but then the Great Recession brought everything to a standstill. Mechanical Rubber's sales plummeted 40 percent in 2008.

He said in a recent interview that the first thing he had to do before helping turn things around was not to take it personally. Mechanical Rubber also had to look at things differently. Glasper said it had to decide what it wanted to be, what it needed to invest to get into new markets and what it had to do to attract those companies to it.

In some cases that meant teaming up with other small firms in the region to have the needed resources to offer potential customers a more comprehensive package. Mechanical Rubber now even has acquired Prestige Rubber Manufacturing Corp. to expand its reach and product base.

But the biggest lesson Glasper learned: “Don't ever quit. If you don't take opportunity there is no opportunity.”

That's a lesson many of the small rubber firms that still dot the industry's landscape can relate to.