TAMPA, Fla.-Dealers who stop in for a peek at the Superdome in New Orleans during the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association convention in October will find themselves trodding not only on hallowed turf, but also on old tire rubber. That's because the warning track that surrounds the dome's playing field is covered with Tuflex rubber tile, made by Tampa-based Rubber Products Inc.
Rubber Products has been marketing its thick rubber flooring for heavy traffic areas for years, ever since company founder, Howard Frankland, turned his focus from tire recapping to manufacturing flooring material using rubber buffings and other waste rubber.
Now his nephew, Fred Frankland, is president of Rubber Products, which after nearly 40 years in business is looking at expanding its product offerings.
``Ten years ago the competition was three (rubber flooring) companies. Now there are as many as 30,'' Mr. Frankland said. His company garners about $5 million a year in sales, and he forecasts an increase in sales for this year.
But market growth is slow. ``There is a lot more competition in the black mat field at a lot less cost. That has cut into some of our market areas,'' he said.
Rubber Products touts its flooring as a stronger product than the cheaper mats on the market, due to the vulcanization method used to adhere the rubber to the floor surface. ``It's not a portable floor,'' he noted, and since contractors have to install the flooring, this increases the cost of the product.
The flooring is manufactured in several colors, which also hikes the price but makes the flooring more aesthetically pleasing in offices and weight rooms.
The company originally had to market its product through personal visits to potential customers and exhibits at trade shows. ``It's always been a hard product to visualize. It has to be put in people's hands,'' Mr. Frankland said.
After years in business, the company can now pull out a referral list of satisfied customers who can attest to the product's durability and performance, he said.
However, the company is low-key about the ``recycled'' aspect of its product, made with 90 percent crumbed tire rubber. ``We don't use it as the (product's) strength,'' Mr. Frankland said. ``We try to make sure the product stands alone and stress its wearability and life expectancy.''
The flooring has found its niche in golf shops, locker rooms, weight rooms-and wherever floors are subjected to spiked shoes, heavy equipment and high traffic.
There are about 100 different applications for the flooring, according to Mr. Frankland. But the two most unusual installation jobs for the company, he recalled, were the walls of a veterinarian's operating room, so that horses could lean against a soft wall; and lining an ostrich farm's cages to protect the chicks' tender feet from abrasions.
Unfortunately for the company, its rubber flooring is so durable and resilient it has no repeat business.
Faced with that situation-and increased competition in the rubber mat market-the company is currently looking at developing new products.
``We're just trying to refine what we do. . . do a better job of servicing and be informative, and look at diversification,'' Mr. Frankland said. He hopes to finalize the company's new direction by year's end.