Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future
Summers Rubber Company remains relevant and productive at 65
It’s a decades-old company with generations of family street cred, but don’t for a moment think that Summers Rubber Company is a dinosaur existing solely on nostalgia.
Few things, in fact, could be further from the truth.
The Cleveland-born company – long a leading source of industrial hose products combined with market-leading customer service – turns a spry and lively 65 in 2014 while retaining the same ability to react to changing conditions and adapt operations it possessed as a precocious teenager.
The latter is evidenced by recent investments catering to the energy industry, which has become an important factor in Summers’ Ohio and Western Pennsylvania home base with the increase of oil and gas exploration activities in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.
“We spent a tremendous amount of time, starting in 2011, trying to understand what we needed to look like to sell this particular segment – the energy segment,” says Frank Tiernay, Summers’ vice president and general manager for the last three years. “We had quite a number of our vendors come in and do training and then we purchased equipment.”
The most significant upgrade came in the form of a new hose-crimping apparatus that will allow the company to work with hoses up to 10 inches in diameter – which was viewed as a necessity to serve oil and gas companies. Previously, the largest diameter hose Summers could work with was six inches.
The machine was up and running last spring and the emphasis has paid off with 36-percent growth to the company’s annual energy bottom line. More progress is anticipated as Ohio-based exploration interests continue to develop and build infrastructure to move the oil and gas to shipping ports or trucking locations and depots.
“It doesn’t constitute our largest business segment,” Tiernay says, “but it is our fastest growing.”
In spite of the recent investments in energy, however, Summers remains a widely diversified company that doesn’t lean too heavily on one industry, a strategy which keeps it from suffering too gravely when particular interests sustain an economic downturn – as happened during the recent recession.
Another growth area Summers is focused on is the Findlay, Ohio market. It moved from a 3000-square-foot building to one that measures 4,800 square feet, and added an outside sales person.
The company buys rubber from primary suppliers Gates and Goodyear, cuts and fabricates it at smaller lengths than those companies are interested in handling and resells it via on-site client transactions with its outside sales team, walk-in transactions at its branch offices or incoming telephone inquiries.
Other markets include agriculture, construction, food/beverage/dairy, HVAC, injection molding, marine, municipal/government, paint processing, petrochemical processing, pharmaceutical, plastic processing, primary metals, pulp/paper, transportation/bulk handling, utilities and wood processing.
The varied approach has been fundamental since the company’s early days, which came in 1949 when it was created by namesake W.H. Summers. Summers’ son, William, brought the company into its second generation and was succeeded by his own son, Michael, as generation No. 3 in 1980.
Michael Summers ran the company until he was appointed mayor of nearby Lakewood, Ohio in 2010, a transition which led to Tiernay’s arrival in March 2011. The company was sold to Singer Equities in December 2012, though the transaction was contingent on the business retaining its name and branding, as well as a guarantee of job security for all existing employees.
These days, it employs a staff of 50 across eight locations – seven in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania – that include the corporate headquarters in Cleveland and a series of similar, smaller entities whose relationship Tiernay likened to a “mother ship” and its “microcosm branches.”
If you hadn’t read about the company’s sale, Tiernay says, you’d never know it occurred.
“The business philosophy of Singer Equities is that they’re a company that acquires value-added distributors in the industrial rubber business and their preference and acquisition strategy is to buy companies well-managed, financially strong companies,” he says. “So the only two things that changed since the acquisition have been the name of our bank and improvement in our 401K.
“They leave everything else in place.”
In addition to the customer-centric approach and product knowledge that is fundamental to many family owned entities, Summers is also an ISO 9001:2008 compliant business, which allows it to quantify and document efficiencies in fill rates and on-time deliveries – a quality conversation-starter for the sales team, which is expected to complete a fourth straight fiscal year of record growth in May.
The commitment to ISO certification mandates that every employee goes through extensive training and many of its sales personnel and fabricator are certified by the National Association for Hose and Accessories Distributors – whose members include worldwide companies engaged in the distribution and manufacture of all types of hose, tubing, couplings, fittings, clamps and related accessories serving the industrial marketplace.
The company has also been singled out by Singer as a platform business, which means Singer’s executives will be looking to acquire other rubber companies and connect them to the Summers business, Tiernay says. The acquired companies would retain their names, but they’d utilize Summers resources and expertise to help them grow, too.
“We’ll be a fundamental piece to what Singer is trying to accomplish,” he says. “And we’re proud of that.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Summers Rubber Company
WHAT: Industrial hose products supplier
WHERE: Corporate HQ in Cleveland; branches in Ohio and Pennsylvania