Recycling key to Ecore's success in the United States and abroad
Asked what Ecore International Inc. does, Vice President of Operations Mitch Schreiber quotes the company mission: “We transform reclaimed waste into surfaces that deliver unique performance.”
That is — broadly speaking — it turns old tires into flooring. The results are featured everywhere from the largest indoor sports complex in North America to the tallest man-made structure in the world — Spooky Nook Sports in East Hempfield Township and Burj Khalifa in Dubai, respectively.
Ecore, which is based in Lancaster, touts its long and green history, which started with cork more than a century ago and evolved into rubber about 25 years ago.
The global focus is more recent still. In 2008, just as the recession was hitting, the company announced it was aggressively courting international sales.
“We hired a person that has a lot of international experience,” Schreiber says, explaining how Ecore moved into the market. “We developed partners in different regions of the world.”
About the same time, Ecore announced it had received $29 million in equity financing from Philadelphia-based venture capital fund Element Partners.
Manufacturing's global landscape
“All manufacturing companies have to compete on a global basis,” says Michael DeRosa, managing director of Element Partners.
It's not just a matter of seizing opportunities. Companies have to be prepared to defend their local territory if a global player enters the market.
“We only make investments in manufacturing companies that are aware of that,” he said.
Element doesn't just look for that awareness in companies, DeRosa says, it also leverages its experience by offering them advice on things like where to locate operations, which markets are most attractive, how to operate within those markets and who to partner with.
“Each situation can be a little different, and you learn something new every time,” he says.
In the case of Ecore, one of the things that Element likes is how the company takes a waste product that America has in abundance and turns it to advantage for both itself and the environment.
“I think more companies should pursue routes like that,” DeRosa says. “It's both sustainable and highly ecological.”
Ecore is North America's largest consumer of recycled scrap-tire rubber — more than 80 million pounds a year. The company says that's the equivalent of keeping more than 2,000 trailer-loads of discarded tires out of America's landfills or conserving more than 1 million barrels of oil. It also recycles plastic bottles and — in partnership with Nike — more than 200,000 pounds of athletic shoes and manufacturing scrap.
Coming out of the recession, Ecore has had double-digit growth every year, Schreiber says — and sending products abroad is “a growing part” of that.
Courting foreign customers has advantages beyond merely widening Ecore's market. It helps insulate the company against economic cycles, he says, because if the United States is down, the other countries might be up.
Element has seen that effect, DeRosa says: “From 2009 to 2011, it really struck us how so much of the growth in our portfolio companies was coming from international efforts. The capability of selling in the emerging economy in that era was of critical importance.”
It's not always easy, though. Laura Dodge, Ecore's director of international sales, says a challenge of selling abroad is that Ecore's products “are new and unfamiliar to all our prospective customers,” so education is an important part of the process.
On the other hand, Schreiber says, other countries tend to respect items made in the United States. And, he says, “I think other countries are more aware of the ecological concerns and pay more attention to their environments than the Americans do.”
Once Ecore's quality and “relentless customer service” gain trust in a market, Dodge says, “then orders start arriving on a consistent basis.”
Chairman and CEO: Art Dodge III
Year formed: Dodge Cork Co. began in 1871, started operating as Dodge-Regupol in 1989 when rubber became its focus, then in 2008 renamed itself Ecore International when it targeted the global market
Number of employees: About 400
2013 revenue: Declined to provide