The Home Rubber Company: 140 Years of Handmade Hoses

Quality materials and components are required to optimize hose operation, reduce risk, and improve efficiencies. It is for these reasons that The Home Rubber Company has dedicated itself to perfecting the engineering process of high-quality rubber hoses and tubing. Celebrating its 140th year in business, the company has exceeded expectations and earned the trust of distributors and end users worldwide. Its commitment to its customers’ needs, and its investment in providing products and services tailored to specific applications, has made it a leader in mechanical rubber goods.

Hose + Coupling World had the pleasure of speaking with Richard Balka, Owner of The Home Rubber Company, to discuss the technical advantages of the company’s proprietary products, its quality assurances, and its commitment to engineering solutions that meet the ever-changing needs of its clients.

By Angelica Pajkovic

Progressive History

Founded in 1881 by Charles C. Stokes, The Home Rubber Company was built on a set of principles that continue to guide its operations today. Using these principles as building blocks, the company began producing a broad range of rubber products for industry and home. As the rubber industry matured throughout the 20th century, The Home Rubber Company evolved and improved its processing methods. By incorporating new materials and gaining a more advanced understanding of compounding, it was able to achieve higher quality products. With the goal to continue making strides in the handmade rubber industry, the company chose to leave the commodities rubber market and re-focused its portfolio to become a niche manufacturer.

In 1996, after three generations of successful entrepreneurship, the Stokes family sold The Home Rubber Company to Richard Balka, who continues to own and operate the company today.

Entrepreneurial Approach

Headquartered in Trenton, New Jersey, USA, the Home Rubber Company has grown significantly from a family run business to a globally recognized manufacturer that produces a full range of rubber hoses, tubing, lathe-cut gaskets, and specialty sheet rubber, along with a number of other specialty products.

“We are the largest manufacturer of natural rubber tubing in the country, and probably in the world,” expressed Balka. “Our position as a niche manufacturer has been very advantageous as it has allowed us to become experts on innovative specialty products. The 2006 acquisition of Ivanhoe rubber, a specialty manufacturer of military and aerospace rubber compounds, brought in new compounds, ingredients, and techniques that increase the chemical and abrasion resistance, as well as the resistance to low and high temperature serviceability of all of the company’s products,” he continued.

Producing all of its products from its Trenton facility, the two divisions of the company work seamlessly to expand the compound development and testing capabilities of Home Rubber. With roughly 50 dedicated employees, the company serves a broad range of industries including aerospace, military, transportation, food, mining, petrochemical, packing and seals, electrical components and general industrial. While the bulk of its products are distributed to clients in North America, roughly 25% of its business is conducted overseas.

Innovative Custom Solutions

The process of commissioning, manufacturing and delivering a product all begins with a simple conversation at The Home Rubber Company. Using the NAHAD standard STAMPED acronym to ask key questions, the knowledgeable associates at Home Rubber inquire about the Size, Temperature, Application, Media, Pressure, Ends, and Delivery, of the product, to ensure that each of its specific requirements are met.

“Home Rubber has always mixed its own rubber from raw ingredients,” explained Balka. “So, once we have a clear understanding of the clients’ needs, our technical and design engineers specify the proper process and specs to be used to maximize the product’s effectiveness. Our craftsmen and craftswomen then begin creating the customer’s rubber product specifically to meet their application.”

Using the highest quality raw ingredients and custom formulations, Home Rubber mixes and compounds the necessary materials to produce uncured rubber stock. Depending on the intended use of the final product, the rubber is then calendared or extruded to be used as the basis for hand building, press curing, or machine building the finished goods. Rather than fitting its customers’ needs into its current capabilities, or into its existing inventory of finished goods, Home Rubber is driven by its passion to create tailored, quality solutions; it is never just a matter of getting the job done.

“In essence, we are the anti-technology company,” laughed Balka. “I say that because technology often comes in commodity manufacturing, but we still make things one at a time, by hand. We can mix batches as small as two pounds and we do not have to rely on outside vendors for rubber, frictioned fabric, or metal components. It is not unheard of that we get a call from a customer who is serving a steel mill that has a hose blowout and needs a replacement in a day or two. Because we can pivot quickly, we are able to satisfy complex needs more often,” he continued.

Once a product is finished, it is inspected, tested as required, labeled as needed, certified, and then packaged and shipped in a timely manner. “As we do our own mixing and compounding, we have a full technical lab where rigorous testing takes place,” explained Balka. “In addition to the various tests done in the initial mixing phase, we can also conduct oven and fluid agings on compounds and pressure tests once a hose is completed.” Overall, high grade ingredients, technical acumen, experienced craftsmen, and diligent attention to quality are integral to everything that Home Rubber makes.

Comprehensive Service

Upholding the values on which the company was built, Home Rubber maintains its reputation as a dependable manufacturer dedicated to ensuring fast service and quality products. Its eagerness to offer problem-solving capabilities, custom design, failure analysis and prototype development is a contributing factor to the company’s longevity.

“Home Rubber’s number one advantage, in my mind, is that we are never trying to relieve inventory onto our clients for our benefit,” explained Balka. “Often, we will let somebody know if we think we are not going to be competitive with someone else’s product. If we do not feel we will be, we will let the client know immediately. Soft wall marine exhaust hose, for example, is largely imported and mass-produced. Anyone who is mass producing a product is typically going to have a lower cost of production. So, we like to be very clear where we are going to be competitive and where we are not, so that we do not waste our customers’ time.”

With its customer-focused team, Home Rubber offers distributors and OEMs the opportunity to find their client’s biggest pain points and concerns, and proactively offer application-specific solutions. “I always say, if you can find the hose or gasket solution you are looking for in someone else’s catalogue, then buy it. If however, you need even the slightest detail changed, from a custom vulcanized hose end, to a different color rubber or length, then we are here to provide for that need,” stated Balka.

Final Thoughts

With an opportunity to fill the gaps left behind by other hose companies exiting the business, The Home Rubber Company looks forward to achieving new milestones.

“Longevity is our best milestone, and longevity says it all,” stated Balka. “We have been in the handmade hose business since 1881 and we do it very well. Although we may not have the marketing budgets that many commodity-based companies have, we have found that the best source of marketing is our satisfied customers. The quality of the products we create, coupled with the relationships we build with each of our clients, is what keeps them coming back for each innovative solution,” he concluded. “Nothing we make is ordinary; it is extraordinary.”