LOUISVILLE, Ky.—When the ACS Rubber Division converged on Louisville for its latest International Elastomer Conference Oct. 9-11, it did so in the territory of its newest rubber group, the Bourbon Trail Elastomer Group.
And in its second year, all things are going well for the first official rubber group formed within the Rubber Division in many years, according to some of its officers and directors.
Thus far, membership has topped 100 with attendance at its technical meetings typically around 40, not that different from some of the established groups, according to Krista Toutant, a business development manager with R.D. Abbott Co. Inc. and membership director for the Bourbon Trail group. Its main draw for members is Kentucky, Southern Ohio and Southern Indiana, though it also has representation from parts of Tennessee and West Virginia, and one member from Minnesota.
"I think it was beyond our expectations how quickly the group grew and the attention it got right off the bat," Toutant said.
She said the process of getting the official sanction from the Rubber Division was a bit daunting, as was filing with the IRS for non-profit status, but Jim Eddy from Zeon Chemicals helped out quite a bit as an unofficial "group mentor."
The Rubber Division also was helpful with setting up bylaws and the organization, said Charles Lenk of Laur Silicone Inc., who is the group's vice chair this year and also is active in the Michigan Rubber Group.
One thing the group has had a bit of trouble doing is attracting rubber product manufacturing members, another hurdle also faced by other rubber groups. For its most recent meeting, the members were asked to each invite a customer to come with them.
"It's a challenge to get customers there," Toutant said. "I've seen a level of participation all around is getting more difficult. Companies don't seem to be supporting these types of things as much as they did in the past. One person may be a member instead of the whole company."
Lenk said suppliers have a reason to attend rubber group meetings, as they're trying to connect with potential manufacturing customers. "It's just the same in any rubber group, it's hard to get manufacturers to come," he said. "That's what we're trying to work through, trying to break through that barrier and get more of them to come."
The Bourbon Trial group has scheduled a full slate events for this year, including three technical meetings—the next being Nov. 15—and a golf outing coming up Oct. 30 (it was rescheduled after weather difficulties forced cancellation on the original day).
And given its name, the group has started a tradition to raffle off a top-shelf bourbon at each meeting, with all donations going to the scholarship fund.
"We do attract a lot of people because of our name," Lenk said. "Most rubber groups have a social hour between the tech meeting and dinner. Ours is a little bit more costly because while most meetings are serving beer and wine, ours is bourbon. So the technical meetings cost a little bit more, but it's a lot of fun."
Lenk said the group has come a long way in a short timespan. "It's a new group, so people really are learning what they're supposed to be doing as they go, and sometimes it helps to have somebody with a little bit of experience to guide them along the way," he said. "That's what I was there for."
He added that the group has funded its first scholarship, a $1,000 award for a high school senior, and is working on two others, but those will have to wait until they are funded.
For next year, Lenk will serve as chair, succeeding Joel Trandell of Bluegrass Roller Service. Lenk said the next step for Bourbon Trail is to keep what it's doing and improving on that.
"One thing you don't want to do as a new rubber group is extend yourself too much," he said. "Try to grow your membership and try to get people at the meetings so that you can get the word out so people know what you're doing. It's all about educating your members and keep things going. You have to keep it fun or they won't come."
Toutant said the another focus will be to build technical programs that will be strong attractions. "We're also looking for feedback from members and potential members," she said, "on why they haven't joined yet, what's missing and what needs to be added."