SOUTH BEND — Treadstone LLC, which recycles retired forklift tires into bags of mulch for playgrounds, landscaping, shooting ranges and other applications, has developed specialized proprietary equipment to serve the niche industrial tire market.
Deb and Mark Sanderson, who bought the company from their partners last year, bring in tires mostly from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan and send bags of mulch to customers across the country and as far as Europe.
“So many people were focused on car, truck, passenger tires,” Mark says. “We found a niche in forklift tires that was being untapped. We’re the only ones in the United States that have been successful in processing what’s called industrial tires on a high-volume basis.”
Most of the customers buy the material in bulk, color it, and bag it for resale at landscape retailers and big-box stores. More recently, Treadstone has added a focus on the local market, supplying material to Indiana University South Bend, Mishawaka schools, and day care centers.
“That’s an area of growth for us,” Deb says. “We are reaching out locally. It’s a newer market for us. Those people are buying the raw material. We will sell that to them uncolored.”
Industrial rubber tires, unlike passenger tires, do not contain metal or fibers, making them attractive for landscaping uses where the rubber’s decay resistance, a problem for landfills, becomes an advantage.
“We’ve done a great job of diverting this product from land-fills not only in Indiana but also in other states,” Mark says. “It really kind of just evolved from the market and the awareness of recycling.”
Users are finding more applications for the material.
“It’s getting a little creative,” Deb says. “The rubber market as a whole, not just mulch but the whole market, is expanding at a tremendous pace. They’ve been using it in riding rings or show rings for equestrian uses.”
“Firing ranges are finding it’s a really good backstop,” Mark adds. “It’s easy to separate the rubber and the lead and reuse the rubber again. Rubber has become an in-vogue thing. It’s good for the environment. There’s so many uses out there springing up daily.”
Byproducts are being used in brake pads, acoustical tile, flooring, artificial turf, running tracks, fuel, soundproofing, and asphalt, where its expansion properties resist pothole formation.
The Sandersons joined Treadstone in 2008, three years after it formed. She had worked at PNC Bank, where she added marketing and sales experience to her human resources background, he at Masonite door company, where he had experience in operations.
“We wanted our own company,” Mark says. “We saw this as an opportunity.”
The couple, who have won a recycling grant, participated in the Edward Lowe Foundation’s Economic Gardening training and hired a part-time social media coordinator to bolster a weakness identified in market development.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. recently identified Treadstone as a Company to Watch for its growth. The firm has 16 employees and is expanding.
Treadstone developed its patent-pending tire-processing machines with a design-build company from Pennsylvania. The machines are computer-controlled and can handle multiple 50-pound tires at a time.
“This is a very labor- intensive work force even though we have these machines that we program,” Deb says. “The team that’s actually out in the shop working is doing some physically intense work.”