Keeping construction sites moving
Written by Peter Assaff, September 10th 2019
Barry Kyle is happy to stay out of the spotlight.
Because of that, although most in Northern New Brunswick are familiar with the Industrial Rubber name, few know of the impact the company has throughout the world.
Sitting in his spacious office on the upper level of Industrial Rubber, just south of Bathurst on the road that leads to the now decommissioned Brunswick Mine, Kyle has quietly turned a small three-person operation into an international success story that creates leading-edge products that are used around the world.
“Industrial Rubber got its start back in 1975 in the basement of Bathurst Tire, which today is right beside the Tim Hortons on St. Peter Avenue (in Bathurst),” said Kyle, who had just returned from a business trip to Germany. “John McAloon was retreading tires, and he had some work he was doing for Brunswick Mines on repairing parts for pumps. In 1978 he offered me a job.”
At the time, McAloon was in the process of setting up a plant on Big River Road, where Industrial Rubber continues to operate to this day. Kyle, meanwhile, was fresh out of Mount Allison University and had spent the last four summers working in the ‘rubber shop’ at Brunswick Mine.
“He asked me if I would be interested in helping him with some marketing and sales and stuff like that,” said Kyle. “He knew I knew something about the internal side of the mine, so I said sure…I’ll do it.”
That was 41 years ago.
“We started growing (our business with) Brunswick Mine that year, three guys, and today we have big branches in Labrador City and in St. John’s, Newfoundland,” said Kyle, who bought the company less than a decade later, in 1986. “We have about 100 employees now, and that is not including our military side at FFG, that is another division.”
If Industrial Rubber wasn’t enough, Kyle partnered with a German company to form FFG seven years ago and builds tanks at a plant just a few hundred metres up the road from Industrial Rubber.
“We (also) have a few agents in Europe and in South America, basically for road wheels and stuff like that,” he continued. “We supply mining products to Africa through major manufacturers mainly in the big AG mills. All of the big liners that are inside of it, we do a lot of the rubber coatings that fit inside of these. So, we sell a lot to the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and they go all over the world. We have some pretty good, unique relations with these people.”
From Bathurst to the World
“We were providing retreaded tires to the mine as well as doing some small pump repair jobs for casing,” explained Kyle. “Or if something had a steel piece, they’d stick rubber on just it to give it longer wear. So, it started very very small.”
Although one of the largest zinc producing mines in the world at its peak, it was no secret that Brunswick Mine had a limited lifecycle and ultimately closed in April of 2013 after exhausting its supply of ore. Kyle began planning for that inevitability long before the mine’s closure became a reality.
“We knew Brunswick was closing so wanted to make sure we had something, and we could keep going,” he said. “You didn’t want to lay anybody off.
“Brunswick (Mine) was great…but that had to be developed…so then in ’86 (when Kyle took ownership of Industrial Rubber) the company started in a whole bunch of different areas.”
Tires for the military
One of the first ‘new areas’ of business that Kyle secured for Industrial Rubber came as the result of a trip with a friend to CFB Gagetown, a military base just outside of Fredericton.
“When we were there at the base…I noticed all these wheels sitting on the side,” said Kyle.
The wheels, as it turns out, were for MM113 Tanks and Leopard Tanks and were scheduled to be sent to Germany to get repaired.
“I said ‘well we can repair those’,” said Kyle. “Not knowing if we could or not, but I knew we were doing 80-tonne trucks underground at Brunswick (Mine) and we were putting rubber on those. So, I brought them back.
“We didn’t have a press or anything here at the time, so we made our own little invention and we used the same rubber we used underground at the mine.”
Once the wheels were repaired, Kyle painted them pink, to make them stand out, and brought them back to Gagetown and left them on a pallet.
“I said ‘you let me know how they are working, and we’ll go from there’,” he explained.
A few weeks later Kyle got a call that there was a problem and made a trip back to Gagetown. Once he arrived, he found the wheels were still sitting on the same pallet he had left them on.
“So, I said ‘what’s the problem, you didn’t even try them’. He said, ‘do you know where you are? This is a Canadian military base. How many guys are going to drive around in a tank with pink tires?’
“I had never thought about that. He said they are not going on like that. So, I said ‘if I go to Canadian Tire and buy a gallon of red paint’…and he said red works. So, I went to Canadian Tire and bought a brush and that and put them on the wheels. They passed the test and from there on in we have been sole sourced in Canada since 1990.”
That means all Leopard 1 and MM113 Tanks in Canada are using wheels made at Industrial Rubber just outside of Bathurst, N.B. The wheels are also sold for tanks in places like Denmark, Chile and Germany.
Today, in addition to the Military, Industrial Rubber provides products for industries as diverse as Pulp and Paper, Marine, Mining and Power Utilities. Their list of products includes a variety of hose and fittings, conveyor belts, gaskets, cam-locks, fuel nozzles and fire nozzles; as well as rubber coating for parts and rubber lining for pipes that extend the life of the product and provide solutions to the toughest abrasion, corrosion, chemical and severe wear situations.
That includes bringing bunker sea oil from huge tankers offshore to small, isolated, towns in Newfoundland through harsh winter conditions.
“That coast it is a pretty severe area, rocks and stuff,” said Kyle. “So, you can’t have oil spilling into the ocean.”
From chicken-pluckers to bullets
“We are very specialized,” said Kyle. “Not a lot of companies do what we do, and with that specialization you get into a whole bunch of things.”
Like something Kyle calls – ‘chicken-pluckers’.
“They are like fingers that go on this big wheel,” he explained. “It turns really quickly and they (take) all the feathers off of a chicken.
“So, we get into a lot of different aspects with rubber products that you wouldn’t think are there. You know, we make different types of pots for companies who plant seedlings and all of that type of stuff.”
They even helped California move away from lead-based bullets.
“Anybody who hunts in California has to use green ammunition, there can be no lead in the ammunition,” said Kyle. “We supply the US a component that goes into ammunition for lead free hunting. If you look on the internet, and type in TNT green type ammunition, that ammunition, the lead-free material in there is our material in all of that stuff.
“We got into that with the government looking for ways to reduce lead pollution, so we developed a special product…here in Bathurst, which is a lead-free core that is used in target practice and indoor shooting ranges in the (United) States.”
Kyle said it took about three years to develop the product, that Industrial Rubber has patented, and they have been selling it for about five years now.
“It was a good investment,” he said. “It is a unique process. It took a long time to develop but it was interesting. It works great. It created new jobs.
“In Canada you can still use lead, but I think the future will be no lead. So, I think we are ahead of that game already. For an American company to come up here, a large American company to come to Bathurst to get this product, it is something unique that not many people know about.”
Research and development is key
Kyle admits that designing a new product can be both time-consuming and costly.
Sometimes they ask for help from the local community college (CCNB Bathurst), other times they’ll turn to other industries for ideas, like with the design for the bullet when they found an answer with a process from the pharmaceutical industry.
“(They) were looking for something lead free…and said can you bond different types of metal to rubber? I said ‘absolutely, that is what we do’.
“I was thinking of bonding rubber to a metal vessel or a pipe or something. So (they) sent this guy up to see me and he said, ‘I want to get lead out of ammunition’.
“There is a lot of capital you have to put in for molds and all that stuff, but you go after a product that no one really thinks much about…and we do lots of different projects. Somebody comes in and…you have to kind of redesign a new widget.”
And sometimes it is just making sure you are constantly improving the products you already have.
“The diversity of what we do on the rubber side is people send us items that they need protection against wear and corrosion,” said Kyle. “We match it up with different types of rubber, or urethane, or ceramic coatings, to make sure that product lasts as long as it can. So, we are continually developing better products for our customers.”
Winning it one end at a time
Kyle takes a lot of pride in what he has been able to accomplish with Industrial Rubber over the past four decades and is especially proud of the fact that he continues to be able to succeed where it all began, in Northeastern New Brunswick.
“I think (Bathurst) is the best kept secret,” he smiled. “There are so many advantages. The people are great. You have the four seasons. It is nice to live here, it is cheap to live here, (and) with the airport it is so easy to get anywhere when you need to travel.”
As for his approach to business, Kyle loves ‘the deal’ and likens it to a sport he played competitively for years – curling.
“I guess it is like a hockey game, or a curling game, when you start it you want to win,” he said. “(In curling) it is always an end you are playing. So, you have to try to finish that end and make sure you win that end. In business it is kind of the same way. Some ends you win, some you tie, and some you lose. The ones you lose you try to figure out what happened and why did you lose that end and what mistake did you make, so you don’t make that mistake again.
“I guess when I started off I kind off I kind of pictured it in that framework. We need to make so many dollars at the end of the month, how am I going to go about doing that? That’s the way it’s been with me. Then you start developing your customer base…and then you made sure you sent out a product that people weren’t going to come back and say ‘hey this stuff is no good’, or ‘I don’t want to buy it any more’. That has always been my goal, make sure I sold a quality product, and if I sold a quality product, I knew I could sell it again.
“Whatever the customer needs, or an issue where he has a problem, that’s where I want to be. I’m going to give you the best solution that I can at a reasonable price.
“So, we started off small and that is how we did it.”
And that is how he continues to do it. And like the skip of a curling team, who spends most of his time directing the ‘game’ from the area of the rink known as ‘the house’ – he keeps finding a way to win each end, quietly, from the place he is proud to call home.
Taking Care of Business with Contendo
By Peter Assaff
Contendo is a leading software solutions company based in Belledune, NB. Originally focused on safety training solutions for some of the largest companies in Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry, Contendo has taken the lessons they’ve learned and adapted their offerings to uniquely serve small and medium sized businesses on the East Coast. Contendo offers proprietary web-based software products, such as a Training Management System (TMS), online Safety Training courses, custom Client-Specific Online Training and company or site Employee Orientation Packages. Contendo has also developed an in demand, state of the art Labour, Equipment and Materials Summary tool (LEMS) to help businesses control invoicing, project tracking and payroll.
Peter Assaff is Contendo’s Business Development Lead. Peter is also an award-winning journalist, with over 30 years of experience in radio, newspaper and television. Reach out to Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an idea for a story on a successful business, or for any information on the products and services Contendo has to offer.