LOCKPORT – After a long period of growing pains and some near-death experiences, RubberForm Recycled Products is poised for growth.
A $1 million expansion with new equipment, new products and new jobs is expected to come on line this fall.
The company, located on Michigan Street, currently employs 16 workers. Owner Bill Robbins said he intends to add six to eight more employees and a second production shift in the fall.
“We just hired an inside sales manager. We’re looking for a customer sales manager. We just hired a CAD designer,” Robbins said.
“We’re looking for some more factory folks. We have openings.”
With the new equipment coming on line, the company, whose products have been primarily sign bases and parking lot bumpers, will add other items.
The company will be investing $500,000 of its own money in the expansion, matching a pair of $250,000 state grants.
“With the new system, we’ll be able to triple our production,” Robbins said.
“It’s great to see how far he’s come and how far his company’s come,” said R. Charles Bell, the City of Lockport planning and development director. A small group of people led by Bill Robbins put everything on the line.”
The city’s Greater Lockport Development Corp. lent RubberForm $225,000 in June 2007. The GLDC allowed the company to make interest-only payments in 2008, 2009 and 2010 because of its financial problems.
“Our bank wasn’t very kind to us,” Robbins said. It called RubberForm’s loan in 2009.
“Thank God we had funds in the bank to cover it all,” Robbins said, adding that he and his family put more than $1 million in to pay it off.
“Not a lot of companies survived from that 2009 world depression.”
Fortunately, RubberForm did, and discovered that prosperity was just around the corner. The company broke even in 2010 and turned its first profit in 2011, five years after it opened. It has been profitable ever since.
RubberForm makes all its products from recycled tires, ground into crumb rubber by Liberty Tire of Lockport, which ships RubberForm 20 tons of rubber a week.
Robbins said he expects to double that purchase when his new production line opens.
“That’s one of the main reasons we’re here in Lockport,” he said.
Robbins isn’t concerned about running out of raw material. “America generates about 325 million scrap tires a year,” he said.
One of the $250,000 state grants RubberForm received came from the state tire fund, generated by the disposal fee consumers pay when they replace old tires.
Robbins said the state’s efforts have succeeded in making plenty of headway in cleaning up piles of abandoned tires across the state.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who helped RubberForm obtain the state grants, said he has noticed on his frequent drives to and from Albany that four giant tire piles he could see along the Thruway have disappeared.
“Recycling efforts are really what it’s for, and there’s no better example than this,” Maziarz said of RubberForm.
Robbins said his company usually uses rubber from truck tires, because it’s all black and harder than passenger car tires.
“Just the nature of the business is great to see, with the recycled tires and the crumb rubber,” Bell said. “We need more of that.”
In December, the city’s development corporation allowed RubberForm to refinance a $174,000 balloon payment on the original 2007 loan, with a new three-year loan term and monthly payments of about $1,800 a month.
It’s a far cry from the company’s early struggles to make monthly interest-only payments less than half as large.
“It was a lot of hard work. It was a very tough time for me and my family,” Robbins said.
Now, with things looking up, Robbins is planning to expand his company’s product line.
A roof mount product will make it possible for large, heavy objects to be moved on rooftops without damaging the roof. Wooden protectors have been used up until now. Robbins said RubberForm is partnering with other manufacturers on that.
“We’ve redesigned it so it doesn’t infringe on anybody’s intellectual property,” Robbins said.
A wheel stop for installation on garage floors also will be made on the new production equipment. Robbins said he intends to retail that in home specialty stores and avoid big-box retailers.
Parking lot bumpers would be made on the new line, and so would lane delineators. The latter would be similar to the markers with posts in them recently installed at some railroad crossings in Hamburg to prevent drivers from evading the gates.
“They’re hard plastic. There’s a couple of manufacturers for those, and they’re very expensive,” Robbins said. His rubber versions would be a “cost-effective alternative.”
He said he might license the delineators to other manufacturers and let them market the products.
On the second new production line, Robbins intends to make two new products. One would be a special mat to be placed at muddy job sites for exiting trucks to run over, knocking rocks off their tires.
The second will be a new highway product not made of rubber: a curb system for traffic roundabouts.
“One guy can install this instead of putting granite in,” Robbins said.
The raw material would be thermal plastic rubber insulation stripped from recycled old power lines. RubberForm is buying the insulation from utilities after those companies remove the wire.
Robbins said he is working with transportation departments in the states of Washington and California on the new curbs. He needs approval from the Federal Highway Administration for the product’s use.
“There’s a little gem here in Lockport,” Robbins said. “Nobody’s doing what we’re doing to this magnitude with these types of products.”
George McNamara, RubberForm’s vice president of operations, returned to the company a year ago after leaving in 2007. “There’s no one in the world who’s going to be doing what we’re doing, products or materials,” he said.
But sign bases and markers remain the backbone of the business so far. RubberForm supplied those products for the mass transit stop outside Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, which opens next month.
Local buyers have included Wegmans, the University at Buffalo and Erie County Medical Center.
“We’re really developing the technology. We’re profitable, and we really have some nice customers, including the federal government,” Robbins said.
“We don’t need to be a $20 million company to be successful. If we’re a $12 million to $15 million company, that’s a manageable size.”