- Written by: Neil Cote
- Produced by: Ziana Merlim
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
How does a family-owned company in a small Heartland city get to be a global heavyweight in the competitive industry of rubber and vinyl commercial flooring while maintaining quaint in-house values that might seem more likely with a mom-and-pop operation?
It’s a question that Dee Dee Brickner, marketing manager for Roppe Corp., never tires of answering.
In short, because no matter how big Roppe Corp. grows, it remembers its roots, the personable Brickner explains from company headquarters in the northwest Ohio city of Fostoria, whose 14,000 residents wouldn’t come close to filling a modern sports arena. But this little city, far removed from Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, has long been where Roppe has set the bar for being a good corporate citizen. Its employees are threads embedded in the local social fabric where everybody knows everybody and the old-fashioned handshake still holds the value of an iron-clad agreement.
“We just want the best for our community and try to set an example,” continues Brickner, a part of Roppe for 27 years and marketing manager since 2016. “We’re not owned by a bank or a group of investors; we’re locally owned, privately held and that fosters a sense of pride for us. Several of our competitors have ownership from outside the United States, which is why ‘Made in USA’ is an attribute we like to emphasize.”
It’s among the many claims that Roppe can make.
A sound investment
Founded as Roppe Rubber Corp. in 1955, when Thony Roppe, an enterprising man of Norwegian descent from Ollie, Montana, invested his life savings in a small rubber manufacturing plant, the company has since grown to include partnerships with distributors in over 110 U.S. cities as well as seven locations in Canada and another 27 worldwide.
The Miller family became the ownership team following the founder’s untimely death in the early 1970s. A longtime, trusted employee, Donald Miller, became president and eventually assumed full ownership.
Although the company has seen exponential growth during the decades under Miller’s leadership, it has remained true to the commercial flooring business. Its product line covers just about everything one might look for in commercial flooring, including rubber sheet and rubber and vinyl tile, treads, wall bases and accessories. Specialty flooring products and LVT lines round out the variety of offerings.
Although many rubber tile and coordinating tread options are available, among the newest innovations is the Envire Rubber Sheet and Tile product. U.S.-manufactured, this sheet product boasts a 6-by-50- foot roll size that promotes fewer seams, and offers a tone-on-tone speckled color palette that is very popular today. The product has recently been installed at the Hartford Surgery Center in Connecticut, as well as at Yale Elementary School in Richardson, Texas.
“These installations showcase the beauty and durability that Envire brings to a space,” Brickner says. “The floor looks amazing and is easy to maintain for many years to come, which makes the facilities happy, while the patients or students get to enjoy beautifully designed spaces.”
Specialty products such as Metal Treads, Rop-Cord tiles and athletic flooring options such as Recoil and Tuflex are popular products that meet specific installation needs.
The luxury vinyl tile lines include the Health and Learning palette option popular in healthcare and educational environments. Its tonal design is intended to create spaces that encourage calmness for healing and learning. Among the other choices are the popular Northern Timbers, a vinyl wood plank designed to mimic the look of wood flooring without the maintenance.
Given the nature of the modern workplace, with all its hi-tech operations, commercial clients often opt for Roppe’s Electrostatic Dissipative (ESD) rubber and vinyl tiles that dissipate static electricity, including the charges from the human body that can disrupt sensitive devices.
Roppe’s other offerings include standard and profiled wall bases and accessories needed to complete most projects, as well as installation and maintenance products.
Recycling the rubber
Ohio may be called the Buckeye State, but it’s also known for rubber—a product that can be a mixed blessing. The flip side of its much-appreciated durability is that it’s not biodegradable, and that can present a slew of disposal problems.
Unlike the tires that pile up at landfills, much of Roppe’s rubbery waste from production and at the end of use in buildings finds new life as the company is committed to sustainability through its IMPACT program. Rethinking, reusing and recycling add up to responsibility, the company says, and those R’s have kept well over 14,000 tons of rubber out of landfills.
Much of that recycled rubber gets chopped up and converted into landscaping mulch, playground surfacing or rubber crumb for athletic fields and other applications. The company has also committed to significant reductions in greenhouse gases, energy intensity, water consumption and landfill usage, and spurns use of toxic chemicals.
“Our commitment to sustainability is more than a selling point. We’ve set major goals that don’t have much to do with the end product, but do have a lot to do with how that product is manufactured,” says Brickner. “We are very conscientious about our sustainable practices, and our customers appreciate our concern.”
Socially sustainable too
That commitment to sustainability takes a social turn with the Roppe work force of nearly 300 that so relishes a family atmosphere. On any given day, a factory tour will include meeting many family members. The company provides well-paying summer jobs to the employees’ children and grandchildren who are enrolled in a college or post-graduate technical school. Its own recycling program allows Roppe workers to bring in their plastic, aluminum and paper waste, with proceeds going into a scholarship fund. More than 40 young people connected to the Roppe team earned $1,500 scholarships for the 2017-2018 school year.
The sense of civic mindedness extends well outside the company’s doors.
“Our ownership is very philanthropic, and not just to the employees’ children and grandchildren,” says Brickner, whose early years at Roppe were spent in a variety of positions, among them operating the switchboard and in the customer-service department.
“We’re always looking to get involved in the local infrastructure; if there’s a renovation going on in town, we will likely be contacted to consider a contribution of flooring products. We want to see our community grow, and that benefits us all.”
Through the years, Roppe has participated in many efforts that benefit the Fostoria community, and continues to do so. Judy Miller oversees the opportunities to make donations. She also works hard on the summer picnic and annual Christmas party for employees and their children. Both events are always well attended and appreciated by the employees.
Company workers have also involved themselves on local boards, the local schools’ mentoring program, Relay for Life, and the Geary Family YMCA.
Roppe believes so strongly in its employees that the ownership recently helped form an economic development package with local government to invite a vinyl flooring partner to Fostoria from South Korea, to open a U.S. division in a vacant factory.
“This deal offered our neighbors a shot to earn living wages and support their families,” Brickner says. “It also offers a choice to American consumers to purchase products made in America rather than imported from overseas. It is our generation’s challenge to rise up and embrace sustainability as people, for the people and by the people.”
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