Custom Rubber and the other founding members of ARPM all were part of the now-homeless GPG, Braun said.
"A number of things happened that led ultimately to the joint decision by the tire members and the GPG that the GPG should break off and form their own association," Braun said. "The RMA became increasingly involved in lobbying on tire-related issues, which drove up the costs of the organization."
In addition, the annual meeting, the primary networking event for the GPG, was canceled and never re-instituted; tire members controlled more than 80 percent of the budget for the RMA, and consequently the GPG struggled to meet its share of rent and overhead costs through its member dues; and there were too few GPG members to continually add programming or members.
"It's been great to see the increased membership and the increase in networking," Braun said. "For me, the networking has always been the most valuable part of the organization, and the increase in networking opportunities over the last 10 years has been great to see."
Braun said the three members of the pre-ARPM task force interviewed several association management companies to lead the new group.
"Ultimately, as a group, the GPG members selected First Resource and Troy to lead our organization," Braun said. "Troy's pitch was different. He basically said, 'We did this and it got these results; we could do this to create more value for members; we could do these two things to drive membership growth.' There was a lot more creativity and willingness to suggest ideas, which everyone in the GPG liked."
The ARPM began collecting its own membership dues later in 2010.
"To combine this vision we've had, we've really been fighting the tide along the way," Nix said. "Each and every day we are focused on providing value. You get what you give back into this organization."
All shapes and sizes welcome
Zelionople, Pa.-based Eagle Rubber Products Inc., a lathe cut gasket and seal firm with 18 employees, unleashed the confetti by becoming the 100th member of ARPM last month.
The firm is typical of the wide-ranging membership at ARPM, which comprises smaller family-owned businesses like Eagle and larger ones like Custom Rubber, which has 90 employees and 66,000 square feet, with sales between $10 million and $20 million per year.
T.J. Chickos, whose grandfather began Eagle as Castle Rubber, was searching for industry standards on a larger lathe cut gasket—in the 40-inch range—when he discovered ARPM.
"A lot of the reason we joined is that ARPM has standards for what we do," Chickos said. "We realized that they were truly the only industry standard for that kind of lathe cutting. The literature stopped where we find our wheelhouse, and ARPM was amazing, putting me in contact with the right people.
"They looked like a great fit for us, and I feel like this is something we should be a part of. They have a lot of good resources and we're looking forward to sharing them with the rest of company."
Custom Rubber's Braun said that many member companies ultimately have joined the group because, like Eagle Rubber, they were chasing ARPM's technical literature.
"I'm very excited about the work that's been done to revitalize and update all the technical standards that followed our group from the RMA GPG to ARPM," he said. "Many of those standards hadn't been updated since the late 1970s, and I think at this point, every one of them has been updated—in fact the Rubber Handbook is on its second revision under ARPM right now."
Braun also appreciates ARPM's commitment to training material and systems.
"Many of the members cite training as the one area where help is most needed," he said. "ARPM has the resources, thanks to its members, to drive the development of solid, industry-specific training that I'm really excited to use in our organization."
Whereas the benefits provided to Custom Rubber by ARPM have been "too many ways to recount," Braun said, a reciprocation in value is important.
"I think the thing I'm most proud of is the way our team pulled together and hosted the first plant tour event ARPM ever had," Braun said. "We've since hosted another plant tour event more recently. It was a great opportunity for our team to present some of the things they work hard at every day and then to get feedback—mostly positive—and some ideas for improvement.
"And events like the Safety Summit and the Benchmarking Conference are invaluable. We always leave with a few gems that can be very helpful—sometimes transformative—for our organization."
Chickos said he looks forward to "getting his toe in the water with ARPM."
"We're going to dive in soon," he said. "We're hoping to be as involved as possible."
Nix said one needs to look no further than the present for challenges for ARPM, as the coronavirus pandemic has robbed the group of perhaps its most important line of communication—its conferences and plant tours, where elbows rub, best practices are learned and invaluable contacts are made.
"We grow our membership through our events," Nix said. "This COVID crisis is absolutely horrific for an organization that prides itself on gathering and sharing, and now the entire currency system is out of whack."
ARPM's biggest event of the year, its Environmental Health and Safety Summit, still is set for Nov. 11-12 at the Cleveland Airport Marriott. The summit is designed to share best leadership and safety practices.
"It's a big deal, two days' worth of speakers," Nix said. "There's a mill safety series being discussed, which is important. But we can't get into plants to see right now. We have $100,000 invested in a technical standards program for seals, belts and hoses which requires funding.
"But I suppose the silver lining is we are going to save on travel."
Nix said the non-tire rubber product industry itself—and therefore ARPM—should continue to address its paucity in technical training, something in which other industries seem to be more advanced.
"Something that the industry continues to struggle with is we have to make the industry look sexier," he said. "Whether that's when you on-board people or with training and methodologies, we could be seen as somewhat behind other industries. You go into a plastics business and there is animation explaining what happens between parts—there is nothing like that in the rubber industry."
And as a military officer might "take the hill," Nix said he is focused on bringing the ARPM out the other end of the pandemic and into a new age that will see the dawn of EVs and AVs.
And that means establishing diversity in markets outside of auto, on which non-tire is too reliant, he said.
"Last year during this time, I was at an innovation seminar, trying to get people to look to the future, especially with the development of EVs and AVs," Nix said. "What is missing from them? They exclude reliance on our products. I want to open up the AV hood, and (have someone) tell me the difference between the hoses, gaskets, electrical. The amount of product dependent on auto—that's a big issue for us. We need to try to explore where we can integrate products as we look ahead."
Nix said reaching triple-digit membership, thanks to companies like Eagle Rubber, bodes well for the next decade.
"This is an exciting milestone," he said. "We are grateful for the support of our founding members and continued work of our membership and sponsors for the good of the association and the industry. The ARPM team is proud to serve its members and the rubber industry and looks forward to the future."