JACKSONVILLE, Fla.-In 1992, Granulated Rubber Industries had to find some way to pull itself from the verge of extinction. The Jacksonville-based company had found out quickly that shredding rubber for fuel projects simply wasn't providing enough revenue to sustain its recycling business.
So the company embarked on a major change, or as the company's current vice president of marketing, Tiffany Hughes, puts it, a ``big adventure.''
The firm hired A*C Thomas III as its chairman and began to rethink its marketing strategy. Producing chips for tire-derived fuel (TDF) projects was out. In came production of more ``high-end'' recycled products using crumb rubber.
At the end of 1992, the Florida recycler discarded both Granulated Rubber Industries' philosophy and name-becoming American Tire Recyclers (ATR) and setting its sights on a new goal: ``We wanted to become Florida's tire recycler,'' said Ms. Hughes.
ATR began reducing scrap tires to a fine-grade powder the Florida Department of Transportation was looking to use in upcoming rubberized asphalt road projects. The company then began looking for ways to recycle the larger ``by-product'' chips produced during the grinding process.
The goal was to completely recycle the scrap tires the company collects from area tire piles and local tire dealerships.
The result has been the production of a number of soil additives and ground cover products including:
Rebound, a soil amendment used in athletic fields and public parks;
PermaPark, a porous surface for parking lots and driveways;
SportsTurf, a soft ground covering used under playground equipment; and
EquestriFoot, a horse arena topping said to reduce injuries.
ATR is expecting 1995 to be a profitable year with sales of $3 million to $4 million-more than double those of 1994, Ms. Hughes said.
A large part of that success will stem from the company's marketing strategy.
``We don't try to sell (our) products as recycled tires. We try to sell them on their merits alone,'' Ms. Hughes said.
Cleaning up the Florida environment, which is littered with tire piles holding an estimated 4 million to 7 million tires, is a bonus, she added.
Even the rubberized asphalt-which is being produced for three Florida contractors and remains the firm's primary focus-is marketed as a product that can last seven years longer than traditional asphalt mixes, she said.
The company's 40 employees really believe in its crumb rubber products as a viable means of truly recycling scrap tires.
Burning tires for fuel is ``the easiest, probably least expensive way'' to get rid of scrap tire piles, Ms. Hughes said. ``What we're trying to show is that you can recycle (tires) and put (them) into products you'll be proud of that actually do benefit your parks and recreation (departments) and your cities. . . .
``Fuel is a great source. It does use the rubber; it uses it wisely. But once it's gone, it's gone,'' she continued. ``With crumb rubber, you're putting it back into the marketplace with new products that are, more or less, revolutionizing some of the markets.''
The company's markets continue to expand as more and more counties, cities and sporting facilities become aware of the benefits of the rubberized products, Ms. Hughes said.
In Duval County, Fla., ATR used rubber from about 30,000 tires to put Rebound in high traffic areas often affected by heavy rains in Jacksonville's Metropolitan Park.
The county has been so pleased with the results it has contracted to put Rebound in a football and a soccer field this year.
Soon, ATR hopes its markets will extend into central and southern Florida, and eventually outside the state, Ms. Hughes said.
``I think we're in the infancy stage in the whole gambit of tire recycling,'' she said. ``But I think there's such opportunity that it's incredible.''
In that sense, ATR is hoping to ``grow up'' before other recyclers.
``We hope we're not only going to be Florida's tire recycler, but something that other people will see and want to emulate.''