BLS Enterprises Inc. marked the 20th anniversary of its incorporation Oct. 1. BLS’ founder and current president, Barry Stoughton, began his career as a high school teacher and started the first BLS office in a spare bedroom. BLS’ beginnings included having a garage as the first warehouse.
“I taught mathematics for 16 years at Elk Grove High School,” Stoughton said. “And I taught college level math at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, until 1993.”
Stoughton also participated for 15 years with the local Elk Grove Village Jaycees chapter, and sales proved a stronger lure than education.
“I held every local office and ran the state convention, and got a lot of ’hard knocks’ experience with what business was like, and how one relates to potential and existing customers. I came to love sales and the opportunity to service customers by providing a solution to a problem.”
In 1984, Stoughton moved from the academia to the business world.
“For a couple of years I sold high-tech and low-tech materials,” he said. “In fact, I was in the midst of selling hydraulic cylinder work to a potential customer when I discovered the need for products that BLS would eventually produce.”
Stoughton’s first customer was K-Five Construction Corp., a suburban Chicago roadbuilder.
“They didn’t need cylinder work, as they did that work themselves,” Stoughton said. “I was ready to leave when the fellow said, ’What I need today is a good track pad.’ And my classic response was, ’What is a track pad?’”
To K-Five, those were the rubber pads on a Barber-Greene Model 265 asphalt paver, which were disintegrating under heavy use.
“Rubber was chunking off and peeling off the pad,” he said. “It was so bad that they had to hire a laborer to pick rubber pieces out of the asphalt so it wouldn’t become embedded in the pavement.”
Because a previous customer had trouble with hard rubber tires flaking apart, Stoughton already had done research on polyurethane as a replacement for tire rubber. He put two and two together and concluded it would work for track pads as well.
“I convinced my customer that we could substitute polyurethane bonded to a track pad for rubber. His rubber tracks lasted one year, but our new ones lasted 2-and-a-half years,” Stoughton said.
He began making the rounds of asphalt paving companies in the Chicago area, and obtained testimonials, which were rolled over into advertising in trade journals. This led to an out-of-state customer in a new line — the asphalt cold milling business.
“News began to spread around the country, and to build the business I went to an OEM, CMI Corp. in Oklahoma City, but didn’t get that business,” Stoughton said. “Instead we reached out to equipment distributors and redoubled our outreach to contractors, and later CMI became the first OEM to use our polyurethane pads on their milling machines. Now every major manufacturer of cold milling machines uses polyurethane pads; not all our pads, but we started the idea.”
BLS also received support from industry trade shows.
“Our first, ConExpo ’87, led to new customers who had never seen a polyurethane track pad,” Stoughton said. “We had incorporated October 1, 1986, and I found out about ConExpo — then held every six years — from a poster I had seen. It was the first big show I had ever been to, and a lot of attendees were interested in our products. It was a great springboard for our products, especially for contractors outside the Chicago metro area.”
In 1993, after seven years of being based in his home, Stoughton looked for external space, and rented a three-room office suite. In one year, BLS expanded into the suite next-door, and the following year it took another adjacent suite.
Inventory was moved to a series of warehouses. Until 2003, the office and warehouse operations were combined into BLS’ office/warehouse complex in Itasca, Ill.
Currently, the Ithaca warehouse serves the Chicago area with Tufpads products and Artliner-BLS Bolt-On/Clip-On Pads. New warehouses in Lake Geneva and Kansas City were established in 2003 and serve the rest of BLS customers.
BLS also assisted customers with a core return program for used track pads. The core return program allows customers to return their used track pads for credit toward future purchases instead of dumping them into landfills. The metal grouser could be cleaned and used again, helping to keep prices lower for customers.
BLS has paid all shipping back to the cleaning center, which benefitted both the customer and the environment.
BLS also has become involved in the rental industry.
“We joined the American Rental Association 11 years ago to learn more about and reach this critical market,” Stoughton said. “We have been able to service this industry with items it needs and we are always looking for ways to better serve our customers in rental.”
BLS has grown through building sales of its Tufpads line, but also through expanding product offerings.
“Three years ago we came up with a new product, the BLS Poly Bolt-On track pads, which eliminates the need to replace the grousers every time,” he said. “We have also developed a new durable Tufpads Blues product, now on sale after field tests proved they last up to 30 percent longer than our premium polyurethane pads. We are always improving the material we offer, as well as expanding the variety of the products.”
In 1986, BLS sold just one size of pad, but now offers Tufpads for more than 400 different machines, not including its other product lines.
Stoughton explained that BLS’ growth is a prelude for the next 20 years.
“We’ve grown through solving problems for customers, and we’ll always continue to find problems to solve.”