Maple City Rubber Company Turns 100
100 years and still floating high
A big “happy birthday!” is in order for Maple City Rubber Co. (MCRC), which is celebrating 100 years in the balloon biz. While MCRC’s American-made Tuf-Tex Balloons date back to 1940, the company’s inception came 25 years prior.
Party & Paper Retailer visited with Mike Kilbane, president and CEO, to discuss the Maple City Rubber’s first 100 years, which included an unusual mix-up with the Red Cross and contributions to the U.S. war effort during World War II.
PPR: Can you tell us about MCRC’s history?
MK: Maple City Rubber Co. was initially formed in 1915 as the Red Cross Rubber Co. by Claud Martin Sr. and his brother-in-law, Charles Switzer. In 1917, at the request of the American Red Cross, they changed the name to Maple City Rubber Co. and became incorporated. The brand Tuf-Tex Balloons was first introduced in 1940. Today, members of the families of the original founders maintain controlling interest of the company and also hold key positions within the organization.
The founders first met when they were working at Faultless Rubber Co. in Ashland, Ohio, making balloons. They carried this knowledge and expertise to the new company. For many years the company also manufactured other types of latex toys, but balloons have always been the staple. In World War II, they manufactured bladders for footballs, gun gussets and other important rubber items that were primarily sold to the U.S. government; however, we never drifted too far from our core business.
PPR: The average MCRC employee tenure is 23 years. How do you explain that?
MK: (It) has a lot to do with being a small company in a small town. Many of our employees grew up together, went to school together and know each other’s families. We are really just an extension of the community. It also helps that we really try to treat people with a tremendous amount of respect. There is very little hierarchal protocol in this company.
We also like to make sure that the employees share in the success of the company. If the company does well, the employees do well … the camaraderie is encouraged and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
PPR: Does MCRC have any community affiliations?
MK: We are very involved with the community through our affiliation with the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees and Norwalk Economic Development Corp., to name a few. We are active from a philanthropic perspective with our involvement with various charities. We sponsor a Relay for Life team that raises money for cancer research. The team consists of employees, their spouses and children. We have a 4-year-old survivor named Jade. She is the daughter of an employee.
They organize garage sales, a chili cook-off and raffles during the year working up to the relay. We are proud of this amazing group! We also have an Employee Fund. This fund grows from balloons purchased by employees throughout the year. MCRC matches the fund amount at the end of each year. It provides enough money to split between several of our local organizations, including the Salvation Army Christmas Angel Tree, Food Bank and Piggyback Foundation.
PPR: A company tenet is making products that meet the highest quality standards in the world. How do you strive to achieve this?
MK: Aside from our commitment to the local community, which is extremely important, we believe the “Made in America” position reinforces our quality platform. This is not to say that you cannot import quality products, but our ability to closely monitor and manage — in a hands-on manner — the entire raw material sourcing and manufacturing process gives us a level of credibility that most of our competitors cannot claim.
Controlling as much of the supply chain as possible is another part. This includes working with our suppliers to develop proprietary material that will help to further differentiate us from our competition. The quality tag also applies to other components of our business such as delivering and service. We pride ourselves in boasting same-day shipping on 90 percent of our orders.
Another area we feel differentiates us is our commitment to personalized service. Not only do we pride ourselves on the quality of our products and service, but we have developed close relationships with our customers. … As a result we have come to understand the needs of their businesses.
PPR: Any changes on the horizon?
MK: Maple City Rubber has done a very good job of penetrating the outdoor advertising balloon market. The high quality and durability of the Tuf-Tex brand balloon has lent itself to effective outdoor use. We want to bring this quality proposition to other segments of the balloon market.
— By Leigh Jajuga, Assistant Editor