Abbott Rubber Co. strives for safety and on-time delivery
Editor’s note: Abbott Rubber Co., Elk Grove Village, Ill., manufactures hose assemblies for contractor supply and equipment rental, original equipment manufacturers and select end-user customers, as well as for the agricultural, appliance, MRO, liquid waste and environmental cleanup markets. Two buildings make up the 55,000-sq.-ft. facility, which houses two shifts of workers. The main building includes six docks and a modern will-call area for local customers. The company was founded in 1951. Terry Weiner, president, began working at Abbott Rubber for his father in 1968 when he was 16 years old and started out fabricating hose assemblies. Two years later, his father died. Weiner and his brother, Dennis, now a co-owner, stayed with the business. In 1974, the company joined the American Rental Association (ARA) and in 1978, Terry went to The Rental Show for the first time and has attended every year since. He says business, especially work involved with the equipment rental industry, has withstood the test of time and the economy. Weiner recently spoke with Rental Management about his outlook for the future and how the equipment rental industry fits into the company’s strategy. An edited version of that conversation follows.
RM: The economic recovery has been slow in construction, but financials are looking better. How did the economic downturn impact your company and do you expect things to be better this year?
Terry Weiner: We’ve had a phenomenal increase in sales in the rental market in the first quarter. We’ve had about 25 percent or more growth in the first quarter of 2012 over the first quarter 2011. Overall, we weren’t affected as much by the downturn. Our markets include OEMs, appliance manufacturing, agriculture and distribution, so we’re diversified enough that there wasn’t a huge impact. When we first started hearing about the downturn, we weren’t experiencing any slowdown, but we knew it would hit at some point. Contractor supply and equipment rental did eventually decrease for us in 2009, but overall we were only down 5 percent. The hose industry as a whole was down about 25 percent. We were fortunate to pick up some new business. By 2010, we saw 2008 levels again and last year we were up about 20 percent overall. Our current customer base has expanded their businesses, so that’s gone well for us.
RM: How does the equipment rental industry fit into the company’s strategy and what percentage of your equipment is sold into the rental channel?
Weiner: Contractor supply and rental makes up about 20 percent of our company revenue, but it is a market we spend a lot of time in. We’ve been involved in the ARA for almost 40 years now. It’s all about differentiation. We want to sell quality products, we want to give good customer service and we want to have on-time delivery. You can’t do all that and always have the lowest price. We work with all the major hose and coupling manufacturers including Goodyear, Parker Hannifin, Eaton and Dixon, so the end-user customer will have few quality issues. You can’t afford failed hose assemblies and returns.
RM: What achievements or innovations have been made by the company over the last five years?
Weiner: We have 75 employees and recently moved towards more automation. We also had to hire more people to handle the growth. Our most requested hose for equipment rental and contractor supply is for jackhammers, pumps and pressure washers. We offer 20 different suction and discharge pump hose constructions. Also, we offer different hoses for the same applications across the U.S. For instance, our Northeastern customers usually use a different type of hose for water suction than those in Florida.
RM: What sets your company apart from the competition and what makes your products unique?
Weiner: Customer service is huge for us. We have a large inside sales staff. All our salespeople start in the warehouse making hose assemblies. We have a live chat available on our website that we handle in-house and we’re planning to create an online ordering system soon. We pride ourselves on the relationships we have with customers and having a good relationship with a customer is more important than a one-time sale. Safety also is a priority for us. Hose safety is something we take very seriously, and that extends from receiving and storing to fabricating, testing and shipping. We are members of the National Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution (NAHAD) and follow its guidelines for hose quality, safety and reliability. We participate with NAHAD’s Hose Safety Institute, which supports and promotes hose assembly safety. Our company is currently helping update the new hose guidelines for NAHAD. It’s important that everyone know about hose safety, because even a low-pressure hose can hurt you. If connections fail, that also can cause an injury or worse. There are specifications in the guidelines that hose suppliers should follow. Our sales and hose fabrication department employees are individually tested to meet the current Hose Safety Institute guidelines. That’s why people need to rethink looking for the lowest price. Quality is important. Low prices usually give you lower quality in the long run. A competitive price is there to give you the best quality and the cost may actually be lower for the customer, because you aren’t replacing the hose as often. We like to sell our hose products once and not worry about it. That’s how we differentiate ourselves. It has been a pretty unique business in a very mature industry.
RM: What do you see as the short-term and long-term outlook for your company and for the equipment rental industry?
Weiner: We are seeing an increase in hose and assemblies manufactured overseas trying to make an impact here. There may be some question as to the specifications and quality, but it has become a global marketplace. On the other hand, we have been able to distribute our hose products for the equipment rental industry to new customers around the world.
Avoiding hose failures
Regular visual inspections can help
Hose and hose assemblies are designed to convey various products and to operate in often dynamic work environments, which can result in serious safety hazards if safe operating procedures are not followed. One thing is certain — without proper fabrication, installation and maintenance, all hoses will eventually fail.
Hose failures of various types and severity are inevitable and somewhat common. As a rental operator, you should have a regular inspection process in place to make sure the hose on the equipment will perform as required. If not, a leak or spill of the material conveyed could occur, damage to the equipment could happen and, worse, a personal injury could result. The rental equipment could perform just fine, but a non-performing hose also will result in lost rental revenues.
Check around your rental yard. There are hoses of one form or another on just about every piece of equipment. Hoses may range in size from 1/8 in. in diameter through 6 in. in diameter and larger. They may be used in a vacuum application or for pressures up to 10,000 psi.
Hose is subject to internal or external pressure, abrasion, vibration, contaminants in the tube or cover, and even direct sunlight. All these will cause degradation over time.
Once a hose is in service, there are certain procedures that you can use to make sure that the hose on any given piece of equipment will perform as required. The most important of these is a regular visual inspection of the hose.
When inspecting hoses, you should look for cuts, holes, worn spots and cracks. Soft spots, bulges, kinks or flattened areas also are signs of degradation. Check the coupling for wear and to make sure it hasn’t moved or slipped from the hose in any way. Also, check attachments for worn threads and other signs of wear. As a general rule, if there is any doubt in regards to a potential failure in a hose assembly based on the visual inspection, remove the hose from service immediately.
Hose storage is another consideration. Hoses should be stored in their original packaging or similar crates to prevent damage from sun, insects, rodents or corrosive liquids.
The correct hose and/or assembly for the specific application is critical. The National Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution (NAHAD)and its Hose Safety Institute© (HSI) members follow established hose assembly guidelines for proper procedures for hose application specifications, hose assembly techniques and hose testing.
Using the “STAMPED” process — which defines the Size, Temperature, Application, Material/media, Pressure, Ends and Delivery of the assembly — with your supplier is particularly helpful to ensure that the correct assembly is provided for the specific use and application.
NAHAD’s Hose Safety Institute Handbook also provides best-practice recommendations for ensuring hose assembly safety, quality and reliability. NAHAD distributor and manufacturer member volunteers provide leadership and guidance to this ongoing effort and an advisory council of expert end-users provides input, advice and support of the hose assembly guidelines. Details are available at HoseSafetyInstitute.org and NAHAD.org.
Terry Weiner is president of Abbott Rubber Co., Elk Grove Village, Ill. More information is available at abbottrubber.com. Joseph Thompson, executive vice president, NAHAD, Annapolis, Md., also contributed to this article.
Links to more information on hose safety