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New uses for old stuff
Turning scrap into consumer products
Deborah & Bill Robbins, the sister-brother team behind RubberForm
Deborah & Bill Robbins, the sister-brother team behind RubberForm

Recycle, reuse and recycle are common words these days at workplaces across the United States. RubberForm Recycled Products in Lockport takes the green movement a step further: The owners refuse to put anything in a landfill.

In fact, the local manufacturing company is working to keep other people’s waste out of landfills. RubberForm uses a technique called compression molding to turn old scrap tires and computer parts into such things as wheel stops for parking lots and sign bases that hold stop signs at supermarkets and other places.

The product line is diverse, but all of it is made from recycled rubber material.

The company was founded by the brother-sister team of Deborah and Bill Robbins, who said they left the “corporate world” to start the business in 2005. Bill, president and CEO, said they considered buying an existing company but after researching possibilities they ended up forming their own company. Deborah serves as vice president.

The Jamestown natives said they picked Lockport for eco-industrial reasons.

“We’re close to suppliers; we are literally down the street from High Tread. We get power from Niagara Falls hydropower. We’re in an old, recycled warehouse. All of our equipment is recycled,” Bill said. “A lot of the folks who do work for us can and do walk to work.”

Although they have faced their share of challenges, they have no regrets about starting their own manufacturing company.

“We’re in control of our own destiny. That’s why I left my six-figure job. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny,” he said. “We wanted to get into something that we could do that no one was doing.”

What’s going on: RubberForm makes products that are used in a variety of industries, including parking lot and road safety, road construction, home improvement, industrial products, shipping, vehicle safety and marine-based goods. Most are sold through resellers, distributors and value-added resellers.

Last May, RubberForm purchased a Canadian die-cutting company, EKO Rubber of Ontario, and expanded to a new market segment by finding new life for old, scrap conveyor belts.

“We die-cut them into laminated shipping dock bumpers and we ship all over North America,” Bill said. “We looked at it and saw it fits into the mission statement of taking rubber-based products and recycling them.”

Clients: You can see RubberForm’s sign bases and other products in use at Wegmans. It also sells to property-management companies, municipalities, industrials, solar companies such as Solar Liberty, containment firms and Delaware North Cos. Inc.

Employees: 12. That number has nearly doubled since last year and has the potential to continue to grow.

But as Bill puts it, RubberForm is growing “organically” right now with no outside investment.

“We’d really like to add on another 12 employees because the business is out there,” he said. “We just can’t get any capital to expand. That’s our biggest challenge right now: to get a bank or an (investor) to come in here, but we’re getting very close.”

Challenges: Along with a lack of capital, name recognition is an ongoing challenge.

“I think the biggest barrier to market besides the economy has been getting our name out there,” Deborah said. “That has been my goal over the last couple years – getting our name out there. It’s so funny because people call us up and go, ‘I didn’t know about you, but you guys are great. We’ve been trying to find a company made in the USA.’ ”

Revenues: RubberForm has doubled sales since last year and the Robbinses said they have the potential to triple sales this year. They expect to top $1 million for the first time, after coming close last year.

“We were about $1 million last year and we’re going to hopefully get close to a couple of million this year,” Bill said. “We are making a profit. Though it be a little one, at least we’re showing positive black ink rather than red ink.”

Strategy for growth: One area where it’s looking to expand is the growing solar industry.

“We’re making a lot of pads for solar panels that go up on roofs. We’re die-cutting them now,” he said. “I think the die-cutting operation could definitely be a $4 (million) to $5 million division of our company.”

“Also, we’re trying to find other uses for our product like the wheel stop,” Deborah said. “We made that into a spill-containment berm. Our sign base, we used at the Alzheimer’s walk as a banner base. We’re trying to reinvent some of our products.”

She said LEED certification will continue to help the business because so many projects need to be certified and RubberForm is on the building green spec listing so it can contribute to the certification process.

Manufacturing concerns: It may be hard to believe, but the company needs more scrap to keep expanding, especially scrap belt from factories and mines.

“We need 100,000 pounds a month for the contracts that we have, current contracts,” Bill said. “We just got a call from a customer saying we could double that if we had raw material.”

He and his sister are trying to develop relationships at mines across the country to acquire more scrap belt.

Strengths: They said innovation, quality and creativity have helped them expand the business.

“One of the things we harp on is that a lot of products are coming in from China and a lot of products are coming in from other countries. And the only thing we can really sell right now is quality,” Bill said. “Let’s make sure that no product goes out of here that’s not well-made.”

What’s ahead: RubberForm wants to expand in current markets and tap new ones. When people hear about the company, they buy from it, the owners said.

So with more name recognition and some capital investment, there’s no telling what the future may hold.


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