Home Rubber Co.

It even still produces its products in its original location using mostly batch manufacturing techniques, although the factory has had numerous additions over the past 130 years so it now encompasses 65,000 square feet.

“Our plant has changed very little overall,” President Richard Balka insists. “Our newest section is 35 to 40 years old.” During the Industrial Revolution, its competitors moved to newer, automated factories in Ohio and down south after World War II, but Home Rubber’s previous owners chose not to leave Trenton because of their ties to the community.

“At that point, they shifted to becoming a specialty manufacturer in an effort to avoid trying to compete for commodity products that were being made at lower labor expense,” Balka relates. “So what they did was become a specialty manufacturer, and they began doing job shop piece work. That’s essentially the model we operate in today. It turned out to be not only a brilliant move at the time, but a very sustainable move, since in the 1990s the industry began to suffer competition from global markets.”

Home Rubber Co. specializes in small runs of unique products. “Where we are today is that we still do everything that all the major rubber companies do, but we do small quantities,” Balka explains. “Essentially, my pitch to our distributor customers is, ‘If you can find your product in a catalog, don’t bother to call us – but as soon as your company needs to deviate from that standard commodity product, we should be their first call.’”

Balka had been a real estate developer in the Philadelphia area when a business broker asked him whether he knew anyone who would be interested in acquiring Home Rubber Co., which was on its third generation of family management. “I acquired it with two partners in 1996, and in 2003, I bought out the first of those two partners,” he recounts. “In 2006, I bought out the second.

“Oddly enough, the transition wasn’t too difficult,” Balka concedes. “I was used to managing projects and to solving spatial and design problems. At Home Rubber, we do similar things for our customers.”

Green Compounds

Although it is a long-established firm, Home Rubber Co. remains on the cutting-edge of its markets. A measure of its innovation is Home Rubber’s development of “green” rubber compounds that avoid use of heavy metals and halogens in their formulations. “We’ve designed a number of compounds that eliminate heavy metals, and we’ve developed compounds that are also self-extinguishing and meet rigid standards for transportation applications that do not have halogens in them and can replace neoprene,” Balka notes.

Because of its halogen content, neo­prene releases chlorine gas when it smolders. “The inhabitants of a subway car may be stricken down by chlorine gas poisoning even though they don’t burn to death,” he maintains. Heavy metals and halogens can also seep into soil from landfills in which neoprene is dumped. Home Rubber Co. currently is selling products made with this safer compound to customers doing business in European Union (E.U.) nations where neoprene has been placed on the E.U.’s watch list.

Just in Time

Recently, Home Rubber demonstrated its just-in-time delivery prow­ess when it satisfied a rush order for a steelmaker. The mill needed replacements for hoses needed to carry water around the edges of the doors of the blast furnaces it uses to fire steel mill ovens to thousands of de­grees. “We got a rush order on a Thursday for two hoses needed by that Saturday morning at a steel mill in Indiana,” Balka reports. “We were able to make those hoses and ship them by Friday night.

“We’re here to solve a problem, and when we solve that problem, our customers are happy, the end-users are happy and we are happy.”