Bonnie Swayze on How to Stay Elastic in a Global Market

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

Bonnie Swayze

Bonnie Swayze’s family-owned company will celebrate its 90th anniversary on March 7. In May 2012, Alliance Rubber was one of two recipients of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Excellence in Innovation Award, which was coordinated through the U.S. Department of Commerce and National Institute of Standards & Technology.

Swayze is the daughter of Alliance Rubber Co.’s pioneering founder, William H. Spencer. She has worked in the company since 1971 and has been its president since 2008. She attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Swayze was the first woman appointed to the board of the Wholesale Stationers Association/Office Products Wholesalers Association.

Q: Tell us a little about the history of Alliance Rubber Co.

A: William H. Spencer, my dad, founded Alliance Rubber in Alliance, Ohio, in 1923 by pioneering new markets for rubber bands. He liked the baths in Hot Springs for his arthritis, and following one of his visits he began the plant here.

We’ve produced many innovative products throughout the years. For instance, my brother Richard in 1986 invented the world’s first imprinted wristband and produce bands, 18 years prior to the first silicone wristband. In 1988 we opened our warehouse in Salinas, Calif., to service Western growers in the U.S. We also offer mailing and shipping supplies, produce and floral tape and applying machines, as well as ad specialties.

Our unique products include FotoFlex, the world’s only digital imprint bands; antimicrobial latex-free bands; EPDM bands; Slip-On Grips; Eraselets; Whiffers Fragrance Bands; Wrapz; Strapz; and ProTape.

What are the most popular products you make, and who do you sell them to? Do you have more products in development, and can you give us a hint as to what might be coming?

We sell to 1,900 dealers in 28 countries, and our products are available at Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Staples, OfficeMax, Academy Sporting Goods, Container Store, Amazon, Uline, Unisource, Bunzl and XPedX. We are currently developing custom-imprinted rubber tags designed to hang around the necks of bottles, luggage, produce, etc.

Did the recession hit you, or are rubber bands a recession-proof product?

Due to increased Chinese consumption, the price of our raw materials increased in 2010 and 2011. Prices have since receded, reducing 2012 production costs. Our customers who have been hurt by the recession have buying patterns that reflect this. When 1 million white-collar office workers in the U.S. lost their jobs, office suppliers were challenged. Advances in online technology have challenged the U.S. Postal Service, as well as print newspaper production, affecting their purchases. But with 28 million businesses and 315 million consumers, the U.S. remains a great market.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a manufacturer?

Labor is always a challenge. We compete against 55 American distributors who import bands from Thailand and China made with $1.50-per-hour labor, but our 150 great associates in Hot Springs are proof that Arkansas can successfully compete in the global arena.

Along with other initiatives, we have increased technology to remain competitive. As a woman-owned small business, we qualify for set-aside business from the General Services Administration and Fortune 500 companies. Our long list of incentives enables partnerships that create saving and value, while providing trade agreement-compliant and recycled earth-friendly products. Ninety-four percent of our sales are American-made products, which provide fresher stock, faster service and consistent top quality for our customers.

We also established the “We Can Make It in America” pledge, online at Rubberband.com, which calls on Americans to spend $1 per day on American-made goods. 

 

 

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