In The News: Steele Rubber Products


Column: Business resource can be a huge help

HICKORY – “Your business. Better.” This is the tagline for the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), a state and federally funded business resource through the university system in North Carolina. They have helped small to mid-sized businesses and start-ups grow and create new jobs since 1984. Each of their 16 regional offices has a dedicated staff that is committed to providing one-on-one counseling, education and other support resources to entrepreneurs in order for them to reinvent themselves, grow and succeed.

In 2014, your Catawba County Chamber entered into an official contract with our Hickory SBTDC Regional Office which still stands as the only partnership of its kind between a chamber of commerce and the SBTDC across the state of North Carolina. Our intentions were simple: to drive business competitiveness success for our Shareholders and Investors.

Even though most of their services are complimentary and access to them is open and inclusive to all, we contract with them so that their professional staff can prioritize their time for our chamber partners. Since the inception of this relationship, this invaluable team, under the leadership of director Byron Hicks, has “souped up” and “restored” many “classics” which we are proud to call partners. One of those “classics” is chamber Investor, Steele Rubber Products.

Steele Rubber Products, a Denver, N.C.-based manufacturer and retailer of molded and extruded rubber parts to fit classic cars, trucks, hot rods, and RV’s has been in business since 1958. For almost 60 years, this mid-size company (60-plus employees) has been delivering hard to find rubber parts that fit a wide range of American makes and models of restoration vehicles and replacement parts for RVs. Steele currently produces more than 12,000 parts which are sold to consumers worldwide through catalog, eBay & Amazon, their e-commerce website and “rolling warehouse” at national car shows. Steele has built strong brand recognition through its seasoned tenure of delivering excellent customer service, vast product offerings and top-notch quality, winning several “Business of the Year” awards from the Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO).

During a face-to-face visit with chamber staff, they were introduced to the chamber/SBTDC relationship and a sampling of services the SBTDC offers that benefit a successful business of their size. Matt Agosta, CEO, and his leadership team decided to engage them for an exploratory meeting which has led to a lasting partnership.

In the fall of 2014, Steele Rubber Products partnered with the SBTDC’s strategy and growth services team to assist in the development of a strategic plan to boost the company’s performance. Seeing some early and promising results for the strategic planning process, Steele Rubber Products reengaged with the SBTDC in the summer of 2015 to conduct a marketing assessment and competitive analysis.

Reflecting on both engagements with the SBTDC, Matt Agosta, CEO of Steele Rubber Products, states:

“When we engaged the SBTDC for our strategic planning meeting, we were looking for a facilitator with a fresh approach. We weren’t disappointed. The SBTDC was able to bring a wealth of resources to help us better understand our market size, our competitors, and our customers. They brought experts to establish our financial fitness, and were able to help us benchmark against similar hobby industries. They helped us face the reality of our mature business cycle and weigh the pros and cons of stay the course, or making the decision to grow and build a strategy around that.

“Later that year we had a sudden loss of our marketing VP. From our positive experience with the SBTDC we decided to ask their help by doing a marketing and sales assessment/audit. Their assistance was invaluable in giving direction to the new manager and department personnel. With their help, we were able to see what worked and what didn’t and where we should focus our energy and resources. We estimate that the marketing budget can be cut by 33 percent to be more in line with industry benchmarks by using funds in a much more effective manner.

“Those experiences and affiliation with the SBTDC opened doors to other opportunities to work with various universities on projects that gave value to us. We have worked with the Wake Forest University graduate accounting program on our business financial valuation, with a UNC Law student on contract evaluation, and will have an Appalachian State University graduate student intern this summer. I am also working with the SBTDC for my transition of the business to the next generation. My association with the SBTDC has been of great value to me and I highly recommend them.”

To take a step ahead, you always have to take a step back. As Byron Hicks, regional SBTDC director, has always told me, “one can’t afford to continue working in his or her business without dedicating the time to work ON their business.” Do yourself a favor and tap into this best kept secret for business in 2017. Of course, you don’t have to be a chamber Shareholder or Investor to engage with the SBTDC, but it would be our privilege to serve as the connection point between you and your future business competitiveness success.

For more information about Steele Rubber Products, visit To contact the Small Business & Technology Development Center, visit or call or email me at or 828-431-7223.

This article was published by The Hickory Record on January 15, 2017 and written by Lindsay Keisler.  View the article here »

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