Rahco Rubber Inc. doesn’t go out of its way to keep a low profile, but it also doesn’t break out the band when it does something notable.

“We just aren’t wired that way,” admitted Steve Anton, president of the precision rubber molding component manufacturer, custom compounder and engineered sealing solutions provider that is owned and operated by brothers Steve, Jim and Jack Anton.

Formed by their father, Bill, and two partners in the early 1970s, the firm figures if it does the job the company is supposed to do, everything else will fall into place nicely. Especially with its customers, and that’s what counts.

That focus has led to steady but significant growth over the last few decades, which in turn has spurred management to reinvest heavily in the company, Steve Anton said in a recent interview.

In the last year alone, Rahco purchased four new high tonnage vacuum presses for low waste flashless molding; two of the latest model 500ton Rep injection presses, expected to be delivered in July or August; a stateoftheart optical comparator, which was installed in June; an ERP system; and mold maintenance equipment, according to Dennis Askew, the firm’s business development manager.

In addition, the company reconstructed its website, completing the project in early July.

Combined, the firm invested more than $1 million in upgrades at its 60,000sq. ft. plant in Des Plaines, he said.

Rahco has been awarded multiple pieces of new business from both current customers and new accounts during the last year, boosting sales about 11 percent in the process, Askew said.

“Several OEMs have been our business partners for over 35 years,” he said. “We are a family owned and operated company with the third generation actively working to maintain and grow the business. More than 30 percent of our employees have been with us for at least 20 years.

“We are proud to be a Made in America company, ISO 9001:2008 certified and ITAR registered as well as being the recipient of many supplier and safety awards.”

He noted that Rahco’s customer base and product portfolio are very diversified. The company primarily designs and produces goods for the appliance, water distribution and plumbing, rail, food service, defense, automotive, offroad and agricultural industries.

Rahco doesn’t rely too heavily on one market, Anton noted, which allows the firm great flexibility if a market is faltering.

It uses a number of elastomers in components it produces, including natural rubber, SBR, nitrile, hydrogenated nitrile, carboxylated nitrile, silicone, fluorosilicone, fluoroelastomer, perfluoroelastomer, EPDM, Vamac and chloroprene.

Virtually all of the products it manufactures are made with rubber or are elastomer mixes, Anton said, although it does make some with plastic.

The company’s customer base is primarily in the Midwest, he said, but it does have companies it services in outlying states.

Organic growth

Rahco today is a far cry from the company Bill Anton and two partners officially incorporated in 1972 after they purchased a tiny rubber portion of a business being sold by Fideltone, a maker of phonograph needles at the time, and currently a logistics company. One of the partners ran Rahco for a few years.

In 1976, Steve Anton, then three years out of college and selling a computer microfilm service, came on board after his father asked him to help run the firm as a vice president, while Bill Anton was listed as president, although he was not actively involved with the company.

“We had very little business at the time,” Steve Anton recalled, and just four people worked for Rahco. The Antons bought out the partners, and “we had complete control of the company in 197879,” he said.

Jim Anton joined the company in 1979, and brother Jack came aboard a few years later. Both were vice presidents and shared the responsibility of running the operation with Steve.

Their father, who for years held a top executive position with Fideltone, continued to hold the president’s title at Rahco but never took a paycheck. He held the title until he passed away in January at the age of 95.

“He was a great businessman, and we learned a great deal from him,” Steve Anton said. “This was a great joy in his life, seeing how we evolved as a company, and he loved the success we achieved.”

Under the leadership of the three brothers, the custom rubber product company grew slowly but steadily as they guided it through good and bad times. It didn’t acquire other firms—although it was tempted from time to time, Steve Anton said—but relied on new technology, quality products, excellent customer service and creativity to grow organically.

Currently it employs about 110, with full fledged research and development, engineering, quality control, and production departments. Its capabilities include rubber molding, material development, custom compounding and engineering, with the ability to take products from concept to commercialization.

It compounds only for its own use, and it purchases a good deal of its compounds from an outside mixer, Steve Anton said.

Onestop operation

Askew is a short timer at the company. He took over as business development manager in January. A number of things attracted him to the firm—actually, a fourway tie: capabilities, attributes, quality and commitment to grow.

Rahco’s key capability is that it is a onestop vertically integrated supplier, he said. “We formulate, compound colors, impact component designs and manufacture high quality precision parts at any volume.”

The company’s two primary focuses are on the customer’s value added, value engineering goals and lowwaste flashless molding supported by a topnotch leadership team, Askew said.

Its two key attributes are experienced people and stateoftheart equipment, he added. “Significant capital has been spent and reinvestment continues on the facility, manufacturing operations, quality control and materials labs as well as maintenance equipment,” he said.

In terms of its work force, half of the hourly personnel have more than 15 years with the firm, while nearly all of its salaried personnel have been with Rahco for at least that long, many with between 25 and 40 years of experience. “That says a lot to me,” Askew said.

Its quality “is best in class,” he added. “I would put its systems and record up against anybody.”

Another attribute, he said, is lack of bureaucracy at the company, which is an advantage for customers because they are dealing with decision makers that focus on what can be done versus what can’t.

In terms of the company’s growth commitment, he cited the authority he’s been given to “run with it—making improvements to existing sales tools, creating new marketing programs, communication items, and development of OEM and tier supplier business opportunities at current, lost customers and with new companies in new industries.”

Over the years Rahco has continually upgraded and adapted to changing and new markets, Steve Anton said. It’s now noted for its ability to work with more demanding applications and generally avoids commodity parts, which companies in China and other parts of Asia focus on.

For instance, the company is strong in new technologies and prides itself in its expertise with low waste and trimless flashless molding, he said. It is comfortable with producing high precision, custom rubber parts, with expertise in chemistry, compound development and engineering, the executive said.

And the company is not afraid to invest when new business creates a need. “We have two presses that will be installed in about a month,” Anton said. “We also buy presses to expand and increase sales. We’ve purchased a lot of machinery in the last two years.”