Falkville company, which had struggled financially, has record year
By Marian Accardi
For the Enquirer
When Cronan Connell joined Falkville-based Valley Rubber in 2001, the company was struggling financially, and though its sales were growing, it had been losing money for four consecutive years.
The owner of the Birmingham printing equipment and supplies business where Connell was a branch manager also owned Valley Rubber at the time.
“He gave me an opportunity to come up and help put a team together and try to turn it around – and by the grace of God, we’ve seen that happen,” said 54-year-old Connell, the company’s president.
Valley Rubber specializes in custom-molded rubber products for the mining and aggregate markets, both domestic and foreign, and other industries, like large–haul truck–bed liners to protect equipment from abrasion, reduce noise and improve safety for truck operators.
“In 2020 we finished right at $26 million in revenue,” Connell said. “That was a record year for us. In 2004 we were around $6 million.”
The company now has 190 employees, including those at its Falkville corporate office and manufacturing site on U.S. Highway 31, another Falkville manufacturing facility on Buster Road near Interstate 65, and sales and engineering offices in Minden, Nevada, and Chile. Of that number, 175 are employed locally.
“Forecasting for this year, we’re looking at probably another 10–12 people,” Connell said. “We should see that head count get up over 200.” The company also recently expanded its machine shop on Buster Road with some additional space and equipment.
Valley Rubber originated in 1967 when Bill and Malcom Presley started a rubber company in what was the old Nuby’s service station, built in the 1940s, when the community was called Leesdale. Connell said the original building is still used by Valley Rubber today.
The company was sold in 1995 to the Hackney Group, a conglomerate of businesses based in Birmingham. By then Valley Rubber had transitioned to manufacturing parts primarily for mining, transportation and industrial molding uses.
Connell said when he came on board, there was a lack of core focus on geographic markets, industry types and product types. “We were able to assemble a good leadership team, and we identified the products we could do well, that were profitable, and we began weeding out nonprofitable business,” he said – products like mud flaps and floor mats.
“What resulted from a ‘strategic renewal’ was a focus on products made primarily for the mining industry.”
The primary markets for Valley Rubber’s mining products are the western U.S., eastern and western Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru, with about 200 customers in that sector, Connell said.
“We primarily target large mining operations,” Connell said. For mining industry customers, “we’re designing the product, we do the engineering, we do the field reconnaissance so that we determine what the solution needs to be, we custom manufacture the solution, then we guarantee that it will solve our customer’s problem.”
Connell said as part of the company’s three-year plan, “we plan on doing some manufacturing in South America, but it’s not to move any manufacturing from here, it’s just to support our efforts on short lead time items in Peru and Chile.”
An executive team of Connell, Damon Tumbleson, Deborah Moore and Mark Waters completed a management buyout of Valley Rubber LLC in 2004, with the help of an investment group. Tumbleson is the company’s vice president of manufacturing, Waters is vice president of finance and operations, and Moore is the executive director of sales-original equipment manufacturer.
“In 2009 the four of us ended up buying the company completely,” Connell said.
When the management team was able to organize the buyout in 2004, “it was then that we were able to begin to grow and get profitable,” Connell said. “And year after year, we’ve just had this consistent trend of growth.”
Valley Rubber has made the Inc. 5000 list, a ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies, five times.
The company was recently selected as a finalist in the 2020 Small Business of the Year Awards by the Business Council of Alabama and the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama in the 51-100 employee category.
Another local company, Elite FlooringAmerica of Decatur owned by Lynn McLemore, was a finalist in the 1-10 employee category.
John Seymour, president and CEO of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce Chamber, said these companies demonstrate the strength of the county’s small business community.
“Valley Rubber has grown and expanded their business, and they are extremely important to Falkville,” he said. “We’re very impressed with the way they engage with the community.”
Seymour said members of the chamber’s Edge Student Leadership program, created to expose high school students to leadership opportunities, have toured Valley Rubber’s facilities “so kids can get an idea of how manufacturing works.”
Connell won’t take credit for the operation’s success.
“It’s been a good group of people, working hard, working long hours, putting good plans together, and it’s by the grace of God that we’ve been successful,” he said.
He said the future of the company remains promising.
“To have a good executive team to pull the company out of significant years of financial loss to consistent profitability and strong sales growth is remarkable,” Connell said. “What has really been encouraging is to see young leadership teams coming up. We just have strong, young leaders who will lead this company in the future, and it’s requiring less hands-on management for Mark, Damon, Deborah and myself.”
Connell also said he is pleased with the change in the company’s culture over the years.
“There was some separation between office and plant and management and other employees,” he said. “That really began to change over time. Now what you see and feel and experience here are people who invest in relationships with one another, with our customers, with our community.
“It’s a pretty unique place, with good people.”