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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Shoe Manufacturer Faces the Challenge of Reinvention

The challenge for manufacturing in New England is that new and innovative ways are necessary to cope with the high costs. In order to remain competitive, New England manufacturing companies are continually reinventing themselves and their product lines. The MAC Action Newsline would be interested in hearing how you are reinventing your manufacturing facility. Please contact Jack Healy at [email protected]

In an article published in the Telegram & Gazette on August 22, 2007, "Quabaug Corporation Turns Shoe Scrap into Safer Playground Materials," Quabaug Corporation in North Brookfield addresses this issue. 

Quabaug Corp. has manufactured Vibram soles for millions of shoes and boots. And now the company is putting something else underfoot while recycling scrap from its rubber-sole production. 

This week the 91-year-old company marked the sale of its 100,000th pound of QuaBoing, a rubber playground covering made from granular rubber. The granules are actually ground-up trimmings from the sole-manufacturing process and are sold in quantities ranging from 25 to 1,000 pounds.

And in the fall, the company will begin marketing and selling tiles made of pressed granular rubber. The company is deciding on a name for the tile product, which will have the letter Q- for Quabaug – pressed into one corner. The tiles, measuring 2 feet square, are flat on top and about 2 inches thick, with cone-shaped protrusions patterned on the bottom to provide air space and resilience, said Sally A. Geldard, sales and service coordinator.

Quabaug Corp. uses about 400,000 pounds of rubber every week, and some of the trimmings from the sole manufacturing had been sold to other companies for use in making cow pads and related products for horses, said Michael V. Gionfriddo, president and chief operating officer.

Kevin M. Donahue, chief executive officer, said the company studied the market and tested QuaBoing for about a year before starting to sell it in April. 

The new product, along with dog play balls and rubber pads for use under a horse’s metal shoes, is a creative use of the scrap, he said.

The company uses more than 20 million pounds of rubber as they licensed North American manufacturer of Vibram soles and of that, will use about 2 million pounds a year for production of QuaBoing and the new rubber-tile products. 

"We’re developing a product that we can build on," Mr. Giofriddo said. "The other rubber products in this market are tire rubber. Ours is safer."

The rubber Quabaug Corp. uses in making shoes and boot soles is nontoxic and flame-resistant, and contains no metal or paint, he said. 

Tire rubber, used in some similar products by other companies, will burn, said Sally A. Geldard, inside sales and service coordinator.

She said the company is not manufacturing the QuaBoing or tiles for any other companies, and is working with large retailers and distributors around the country.

"Right now we’re concentrating on New England," she said.  "There and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. We would like to see key distributors who deal in bulk.  They would deal with the end users." 

She pointed out that the interest in Dallas-Fort Worth came after the wood chips used to cover a school playground in Arlington, Texas, went up in flames recently earlier this month, prompting school officials to replace wood chips with other materials.

QuaBoing is sold at Bemis Farms Nursery in Spencer and Sterling Greenery in Sterling.  Customers can call Quabaug Corp. to arrange a purchase, but the company has no retail area at its School Street plant, Ms. Geldard said. 

She declined to divulge prices but said there are discounts for larger orders.

In its literature, the company claims that 68 percent of playground injuries are from falls to the ground, and bills QuaBoing as an impact-absorbing playground surface.

"It’s much safer for falls," Mr. Donahue said.  "What we were trying to do is enter a market and find a niche. We want to build our brand and diversify. We tried it here on our one property. We think it’s pretty unique. We’re happy with our progress to date."

The company spread QuaBoing as part of its landscaping, as it would use mulch. Next door, a  playground company donated to the First Congregational Church uses QuaBoing as surface cover.

"It’s expensive to run a manufacturing plant in Massachusetts," said Mr. Gionfriddo, "We are constantly looking for ways to be more productive. This is an opportunity to create business with something that used to be waste."

"We’ve developed a product that has quality applications and provides a better finished area for playgrounds," he said, referring to QuaBoing. "It doesn’t attract insects and it doesn’t degrade like wood chips. It has a 10-year warranty."

The company is getting interest from day care centers for the rubber tile product, said Ms. Geldard. She expects they will be used mostly outdoors but could have some indoor application as well.

"We will sell more tiles for outdoor applications," she said. "If some want to use them indoors, they could install them. They would be a great surface for a McDonalds indoor play area. We have a lot of interest in the tile." 


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