PARAGOULD, Ark.—GRT Rubber Technologies is expanding by branching out into new product lines and territories and investing in new capabilities.
While the belt and sheet rubber manufacturer has been known for more middle-of-the-road conveyor belts, it has started production of both light and heavy conveyor belts as well, according to Jeff Phillips, vice president of sales and marketing, speaking at the NIBA convention in Phoenix.
"It's really about expanding the product line we've got. For us, it typically fell between 220 PIW (pounds per inch of width) and 1,000 PIW, and now we're going down to 160 and even below that. About 90 pounds, that's more the package-handling type," Phillips said. "Then there's the heavy stuff in the mining industry that gets into 1,200-1,500 PIW."
Phillips said the change is coming with pressure from distributor requests, driven ultimately by customer demand for the varied products. The requests have seen "a pretty healthy increase" for both the heavier belt for mining applications and lighter package management applications.
"When you start talking about the Amazons and the FedExes and UPS, that business is just going to continue to grow," he said. "More and more we're ordering online, so that's a piece of it. We saw a need for somebody to be able to supply that market."
The new products don't mark a specific change in overall direction for GRT, but it's "definitely a significant piece of business that we want to participate in," Phillips said.
"Rounding out that line for us is where we're growing our business," he said.
More opportunities for varied belting sales have also arisen as a result of GRT bringing on new sales team members, Phillips said. The company has made a concerted effort to focus on expanding and developing employees to broaden the company's presence and client response.
"We're investing in people," Phillips said.
The company has hired three new employees in sales in the last two years and brought on a few more for the technical department, Phillips said. In compounding and processing, GRT is looking for hires for engineering. In the near future, GRT will be looking for more sales support staff to continue to develop that department. And to balance out growth on the sales side and keep up with customer demand, the company will need to add more production.
Phillips said part of that expansion has been the addition of more territory coverage. GRT, based in Paragould, already has a presence in the Southeast U.S. and Northwest U.S. The company has recently added representatives for the Southwest U.S. and the Mid-South U.S. regions. The Mid-South region includes Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, and the Southwest region includes Arizona, California and nearby areas.
As the company's product line has shifted, the territory managers have shifted as well, Phillips said. While most managers cover a physical location, GRT has assigned one territory manager to focus on lightweight belting customers in general regardless of location.
"We want to have coverage across North America, to Mexico, to Canada. That's ultimately the goal," he said.
GRT also has made an investment of an undisclosed amount in inventory, focusing on raw materials.
"If we've got the raw materials, we can respond to requests pretty quickly," he said. "Percentage-wise, we've probably upped our inventory by about 30 percent."
That boost includes fabric and rubber compounds, as well as some finished goods, he said. During the last year, GRT developed more abrasion-resistant compounds, including one requested for the aggregate industry.
"It was really a response to customers asking for a better, abrasion-resistant compound," Phillips said. "We developed a couple compounds, and one we call a super abrasion-resistant, or SAR. Another we call CG, which has better cut and gouge resistance, has higher tensile strength than your normal Grade 1 or Grade 2 compounds."
Both of those compounds have seen strong results in the agricultural industry under crushers, Phillips said.
Another development is a hot compound, he said. Most EPDM compounds are rated between 400-450°F.
"We've developed something that will actually get closer to the 750°F range and hold up well," Phillips said. "It's a small market, we don't have a lot of people who ask for that type of build. Most of them, once they get into that type of temperature, they have other equipment issues."
The company also has seen a solid amount of business on its sheet rubber product side as well, which GRT added to its capabilities about three years ago, Phillips said. It covers applications such as bridge bearings and industrial machinery, and vibration control with layers of cotton-polyester duck fabric.
"That makes us a little bit different than some of the other strictly conveyor belt places," Phillips said. "It helps us when it comes to development and having different compounds available."
Having experience with sheet rubber product development gives GRT something extra in developing new products and building new business, he said.
"There's a lot of specialty stuff that we do that maybe other companies don't do, from fabrication to special compounds," Phillips said. "We can adapt to it a little quicker than some of the others. That's what's helped grow our business, and part of the reason we've invested in our technical employees. You've got to be able to make that happen."
GRT has seen overall growth of about 30 percent over the last two years as a result of some of the new offerings, including some market share, Phillips said. There are about 90 employees at its 150,000-sq.-ft. facility.