Despite the heat, the two men enthusiastically circulated among the crowd, shaking hands and receiving congratulations on what was clearly a proud day for two industry veterans.
Gillett noted that it was indeed a family event but added that his "family" includes the company's 700-member staff nationwide, its business partners throughout the world, and the people of Fostoria, a small town 100 miles west of Cleveland that has been Roppe's home since day one.
"It's an exciting time for us as a family," said Gillett, with a beaming smile. "It's amazing how many good people you run into in this industry. And I'm not just talking about our staff or our customers. I'm talking about our competitors and so many other people who we have worked with over the years."
Miller, who started at the company under the leadership of late founder Thony Roppe, seemed wistful as he reflected on five decades of leadership in flooring. "These 50 years have gone by so fast," said Miller. "It's been my and my wife Judy's life. We've been very, very fortunate in this industry. The time has been satisfying and worthwhile."
Those on hand for the milestone anniversary were unanimous in their praise for the company, which started with just seven employees and a focus on one category. Today, the company once known as Roppe Rubber Corp. has grown to become a leading supplier of rubber and vinyl flooring and accessories as well as stair treads, floor tile, stair nosings, corner guards, reducer strips and carpet edgings.
The company has seen steady growth throughout its history: it took a major step forward in 1985 when it acquired American Thermoplastic Extrusion Co. (ATECO) and broadened its reach to include vinyl flooring. The expansion compelled the company to drop the word "rubber" from its name. Roppe now has more than 110 distributor locations in the United States and exports all over the world.
Among those expressing appreciation was Michael McCann. The son of Thomas McCann, the late president of ATECO, thanked the Gilletts and Millers for their support after the merger.
Also honoring Roppe were three congressmen from Ohio -Reps. Jeff Wagner, Bob Latta and Mike Gilb. Each commended Roppe on its commitment to the community, including donations to the local library, YMCA, and United Way.
Others on hand for the day's events, which included plant tours and gifts for the guests, noted that Roppe's influence can be seen throughout the industry. "This one company has really shaped how the flooring industry operates," said George Bufkin, owner of Mansfield Paint, a Medina, Ohio supplier of the pigment used in Roppe's cove base. "Roppe is a forward-thinking company, especially in the innovation that goes into its manufacturing processes and equipment."
Likewise, Dan Blakely of accessories distributor Blakely Products, who traveled from Warren, Mich., for the celebration, spoke along the same lines. "Roppe possesses a visionary temperament," he said. "The company has been around for 50 years now, and you can't be viable like that by resting on your laurels."
Steve Kurtz, president of Deer Park, N.Y., distributor Salesmaster, agreed. "Fifty years, and Roppe's still going strong. The company is better today than it has ever been."
The company kicked off the 50th birthday celebration earlier this year in Las Vegas, serving cake to visitors to its Surfaces exhibit each day of show. The golden anniversary celebration is slated to continue with a ‘50s style dinner-dance for its employees. "This is intended to be a special thank you from the Millers and Gilletts," said Dee Dee Brickner, a spokesperson for Roppe. "They enable this company to enjoy the success it has achieved."