Business View Magazine interviews Jeremy Klotz, Director of Operations at Clean Seal Inc., for our series on the Automotive and Recreational Vehicle industry.
Clean Seal, Inc. has been serving the aftermarket-automotive, marine, military, recreational vehicle, and transportation industries since 1978 – and grown every year! The company provides original equipment manufacturers and fabricators with high quality seals that are compounded, mixed, tested, and produced using the most advanced equipment and technologies available to the polymer industry. Clean Seal’s plant in South Bend, Indiana is centrally located just 1 1/2 hours from Chicago, 3 1/2 hours from Detroit, and 2 1/2 hours from Indianapolis.
For four decades, Clean Seal, Inc. has provided superior service to diverse industries. A full complement of experienced staff helps guide customer choices from project start to application of the product selected, recommending the most effective material and profile shape for the service environment. Uniform materials and design are critical to any manufacturing process, and Clean Seal’s strict adherence to quality control procedures and ISO 9001:2015 certification assures that all products meet specific tolerances for project requirements.
An extensive product line includes stock extruded rubber seals, custom extruded rubber seals, grip seals, trim seals, trim moldings, automotive hose, EPHA hose protection parts, extruded plastics parts, EMI shielding, and custom manufactured metal springs. Along with a variety of secondary operations that make parts application easier.
Clean Seal customers appreciate the quality products, huge inventory, and low minimum requirements. And, while the company is large enough to service major recreational vehicle manufacturers, it’s still small enough to offer the personal service people expect and enjoy.
Jeremy Klotz, Vice President of Operations/General Manager for Clean Seal, Inc., shares the innovative history of the company, and what makes it stand out, today, in a very competitive marketplace. He explains, “About 40 years ago, the original owners of Clean Seal were looking at the RV industry and what they were doing to seal windows. They used a sticky butyl material around the window frame, put the window in the side wall of the RV unit, and the stuff would eventually soften up in the heat and come down the side of the vehicle. Our owners thought there had to be a better way.”
True entrepreneurs to the core, they saw there was a need and set to work at the kitchen table, applying adhesive to extruded rubber. The solution worked well, so they started using the material for windows and doors, and that evolved into many other applications. The name Clean Seal came about because, in the summer, the traditional butyl mixture would ooze out, leaving dirty-looking black streaks. The new rubber seal was clean, no residue.
Clean Seal celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018. Original owner, Juanita Moore, had two partners when the business began; they couldn’t see the vision behind it, but Moore held on and saw the potential. The other partners ended up selling out to her before the company really got moving. Juanita took the reins and hired Bill Dawson the first year. A natural salesman with keen instincts, Dawson went out and sold and sold, and got people interested. Today, he is the Sr. Vice President of Clean Seal.
Klotz notes, “We sell to big and small manufacturers of RVs and, we also branched out into truck, bus, and boat markets over the last two decades. We have an automotive hose division, where we supply fuel hoses, and we’re getting a program for springs going, which we sell to firearms manufacturers. For the future, we’re open to everything.”
Clean Seal has a single location in South Bend with about 45 employees; conveniently situated close to Elkhart, where a lot of RVs are manufactured. Competition on the rubber side of the business is intense. Most of those products are a standard profile, widely available. Clean Seal carries many off-the-shelf items, but also sells a good amount of proprietary parts, for when a customer needs a specific shape and size. The customer pays a set-up fee or tooling fee, and the company will custom make the product.
“We are strictly a business to business operation,” says Klotz. “We try to stay away from the consumer side. We know we can’t service the individual properly because we have minimums we have to meet. But we do have distributors out there that we’ll send individuals to when they call. As with any smart business, we’re always interested in what we can add to our product line. We’ve tried a few things in the past and some haven’t panned out, but we really look at what fits with our current customers that we could also branch out into other markets.”
Springs are a stretch from what Clean Seal normally produces. “There was a lot of education involved. When you think of a spring, you think of the standard compression kind – and that’s not something we’re going to get into because they’re already mass produced. We tried to go more toward the custom side, looking at specific needs, where we can help the customer figure out what’s required, and get them something that really works for their application.”
In an industry with intense competition, Clean Seal has created valuable relationships with suppliers and customers, and always maintained a high regard for quality products and quality service over the years. Klotz adds, “With a new product, we would go back to our current customer base and say, ‘Yes, we’re doing such and such.’ With springs, we didn’t find that was effective. There wasn’t a need for it. It took a few years to determine we had to go a different direction, and we finally got into a new market arena.”
In the next five years, Clean Seal has plans for more additions to the product line. They are currently doing some molded hose for engines – all custom at this point – very specific to individual customers. Whereas, the standard hose line they sell is a fuel injection hose, fuel fill hose, found on many types of machinery and could be used by anyone. But more custom work is the direction the company is heading.
One of many valuable long-term suppliers is 3M. Klotz says, “We’ve worked with them for a long time, and use a lot of their heat-activated tape systems to apply our products. On the customer side, it’s hit and miss. We’ve held onto long-term relationships with the larger RV manufacturers, though, it’s a little more difficult in this generation when some of the guys that started these companies are retiring. So, we need to develop new relationships and earn their trust all over again.
“At Clean Seal, we care about our customers. We’re not just out there to make a fast buck, and then send them down the road. I want to treat a customer how I would like to be treated from a supplier. That is so important. I talk often with our production staff about the appearance of the product, the quality of the product, and I usually end with ‘treat the product like you would be buying it.’ Just put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Make sure you’re not sending anything out that door that you wouldn’t personally use yourself. Treat the customer with respect and care, making sure it’s the right product and the right fit for them. That way, you develop complete satisfaction and trust.’”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Clean Seal Inc.
WHAT: Full-service source for standard and custom-designed seals and related products for the transportation industry.
WHERE: South Bend, Indiana