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Columbia City’s firm creates rubber moldings

Robco Engineered Rubber Products Inc.

Address: 707 E. Short St., Columbia City

At a glance: Robco molds rubber to metal to make vibration control mounts in more than 250 different shapes and sizes. The company’s machine shop also can create custom molding for customers’ special needs.

The parts are used in exercise equipment, including treadmills and stationary bikes; outdoor power equipment, including leaf blowers and chain saws; and electric motors, including those used in golf carts. Other customers include the aerospace, furnace and outdoor generator industries. Harley-Davidson puts the parts on its motorcycles.

Employees: Eight, including co-owners Mark and Gwenn Roberts

Annual revenue: $1.5 million

When was the company founded: 1996

Biggest accomplishment in the past 12 months: Robco invested in new tooling to upgrade the molds used to make its parts. The change automates more operations, allowing the company to increase manufacturing capacity.

What was your biggest mistake so far in operating this business: The company doesn’t have a dedicated outside sales force. Mark Roberts, co-owner, said Robco could increase orders in untapped markets with its own sales force, but he has had to rely on his customers and distributors to help sell the products.

What are the key challenges facing your business or industry: Keeping manufacturing in the United States. “We have heavy competition from overseas,” Mark Roberts said. He listed companies in China, India and Vietnam. Although labor costs are lower in those Asian countries, so is the quality of the products, Roberts said. Robco has lost some customers to overseas competition only to see the business return after the clients weren’t satisfied with the lower-cost products, he said.

What is your strategy for staying ahead of your competition: Robco focuses on offering high-quality products, on-time delivery and a fast turnaround on orders. The manufacturer keeps inventory in stock to ship to customers who need immediate shipments.

What resources have you found most helpful in running a business: “My employees,” Mark Roberts said. “They are truly dedicated and loyal.” The small workforce takes turns bringing in a home-cooked lunch for everyone on Thursdays. Roberts described the atmosphere in his 6,000-square-foot building as “like family.”

What are your growth projections for the next five years: From 3 percent to 5 percent annual growth, matching the market.

What is one thing about your business that people might not be aware of: Robco was built based on the knowledge Mark Roberts acquired while working for his father, Frank Roberts, at Bond-Flex Rubber Co. in North Manchester. The elder Roberts sold the company to Goshen Rubber Co. in the early 1990s. After working there a few more years, Mark Roberts struck out on his own to launch Robco in 1996. His son, Darin Roberts, is the family’s third generation to work in the family business.

If you weren’t running this business, what would you be doing: Mark Roberts started working in his father’s company at age 16. But he quickly listed three other options. The avid hunter and fisherman would enjoy owning a hunting and guiding service. Roberts also loves to cook, so owning a small steak-and-seafood restaurant is tempting. But rubber runs in his blood. The entrepreneur’s third fallback career option would be to work as a salesman for vibration control mounts.

Source: Mark Roberts, president and co-owner Compiled by Sherry Slater of The Journal Gazette Business Spotlight profiles small businesses that are at least three years old and have 100 or fewer employees. To recommend a business, e-mail the name of the company and the name and phone number of a contact person to or fax to 461-8893.

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