It's no big secret that the rubber custom mixing business has a handful of large players at the top of the food chain, players that look for large volumes and can operate on a wide scale, sometimes globally.
At the same time, however, custom mixing also remains a business where the small shops can still find a niche in the business, and a profitable one at that. They're the firms that believe that relationships and working closely together can make them invaluable to a certain breed of customer.
Elite Elastomers and QPoly are two examples of smaller mixers that are making a living at being an invaluable partner to their customers. It's probably no accident that both are located in small communities. Elite is in Ripley, Miss., the hometown of company founder Steve Glidewell, while QPoly, a spinoff from Specialty Products & Polymers, is located in Granger, Ind., just 10 miles across the Michigan border from SP&P.
Both also are aiming to make their marks in the high end of the business, with Elite gaining a good share of its business mixing fluoroelastomers and HNBRs for critical applications in the oil and gas market, and QPoly focusing exclusively on FKMs.
Glidewell's story itself has some "American Dream" qualities built into it. He had worked for conglomerate Dana Inc. for 16 years when the entrepreneurial urge hit him. He knew that he'd come to the point where if he didn't act then, the dream of starting his own company probably never would happen. He's also a pragmatist, as economics played as much or more of a role in him establishing Elite in Ripley as did the fact that it was his hometown.
Glidewell and his wife, Ginger, Elite's technical manager, also know where Elite falls in the business equation. "We're not the star of this show, our customer is," Steve Glidewell said. They know that Elite's mission is to identify where a customer has a problem, and the mixer will lead them to the solution. That's the company's role, rather than being in the spotlight.
The Elite team also believes in the power of small groups. That's evidenced by its acquisition last fall of Wayne County Rubber, a small mixer in Ohio. The two were put in contact with each other by an Ohio-based rubber goods maker, and Steve Glidewell sees the Wayne County purchase as a perfect match with leaders who share the same value system.
At QPoly, the story is similar to one you hear over and over. Michael Shaul had worked at Specialty Products, a mixer of silicone compounds, for about 11 years when a customer asked it to consider mixing its FKM goods. Specialty Products turned down the request, but the customer was persistent.
When that relationship became a success, Specialty Products realized some organic growth with its existing customers that needed both silicones and FKMs.
The problem was the FKM business always was going to be in the shadow of the silicone mixing, and didn't have its own identity.
So Shaul approached Specialty Products founder Rick Rey with a proposal to purchase the FKM business and start up a separate mixing firm. The process took about a year, but resulted in QPoly moving to its own facility with its own name and the ability to forge its own path.
These stories are reminders that companies don't have to be large to have a big impact.