RLA goes green as users demand low VOC

Demand for low VOC alternatives has risen dramatically within the adhesives, sealants and fillers space of late. RLA Polymers has chosen to invest heavily in new technologies to meet the increasing demand for hybrid/MS (Modified Silicone) technology.

14/05/2021 by Christine Bannister

Troy Hogan, RLA Group – Managing Director, said Low VOC technology is quite prevalent in Europe currently. RLA Polymers’ newest formula follows the European trend of delivering low VOC content alongside superior performances.

RLA Group – Managing Director – Troy Hogan.

Mr Hogan said RLA Group are now investing significantly in research and development and plant equipment to ensure that this id technology brought to the Australian market. With new low VOC range to include adhesives, sealants and water proofing membranes. RLA believes they will be one of the leaders in this type of technology in the near future. “These products favoured mainly because they are very low in VOC, and also have performance improvements. Popular despite the price point being little bit higher than the traditional solvent systems that they use today.”

“The Australian market is about six to 10 years behind Europe and the US is probably four. In some ways Europe blaze a trail, then they get their economies of scale and prices come down so it is not too much of an impost on the Australian end-user,” he said.

Consumer education

When it comes to educating the consumer on the benefits of using low VOC products, traditionally RLA Polymers would use a combination of both print and practical demonstrations, including trade breakfasts where reps visit hardware stores and demonstrate the product in a very physical, hands-on way.

“Utilizing this type of marketing is still very much a part of our story but it is also about moving forward with digital campaigns, including videos we post on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. There is a balance between hands-on demonstrations and digital campaigns. We thinking of even using some animation to market our products in the near future,” he said.

A small range of the new MS (Modified Silicone) products have already been introduced into the Australian in recent months. Mr Hogan believes the product has already been well accepted by Australians.

“Initially the new range we introduced came out of Europe but now we are starting to manufacture locally. This not only helps with our cost position but also our control. We are really starting to get behind it and promote at a local level.”

Mr Hogan added: “The new MS range now features a sealant, a construction adhesive, and we are also bringing a timber floor adhesive to the market as well as a resilient flooring adhesive, a waterproofing membrane and a fire rated sealant.”

“The initial response from the market has been positive with very encouraging feedback on the usability of the product. Tradies will always whinge if a product is too thick or thin, or fast or slow but there has been great feedback around this new variety. Yes we have few a tweaks to make yet, but so far it is looking good,” Mr Hogan said.

Adjusting through COVID

Like most suppliers in the construction segment, Mr Hogan did have some initial concerns when COVID first hit early last year, but quickly realised that sales would recover.

“RLA did have a dip in sales for a couple of months but then we came out of the Melbourne lockdown super strong. 200 people work at RLA, so initially we had to organise ourselves to work from home, where we could, particularly in our administration and sales departments. RLA gained permission to continue operating and deemed an essential service due to our adhesives for food packaging, the automotive industry and other essentials we produce including hand sanitiser. RLA were very busy throughout this time and achieved record sales last year. It has continued this year, particularly with low rate loans and high government stimulus available.”

“We are very confident on the year ahead with our biggest problem currently being attracting and keeping good staff. Staff shortages are rectifying themselves now that JobKeeper has dropped away. Before this we had potential employees coming for interviews and if they were offered a position they would then look at the offer we gave them, do a calculation and decline the position because they said they were better off on government benefits than working for us. At the moment we have gaps in everything from forklift drivers and factory people right through to technical and sales people as well as administration. It is just across the board,” he said.

RLA’s second biggest concern is around supply chain issues, with the company having to continually alter and adjust the way it developed products to cope with the lack of supply coming out of COVID.

He said, “As a manufacturer, where we import a lot of our products, we do have raw material run out constantly. To deal with this you have to pivot, change your formulas, put it through the testing and then discuss with the customer why coatings are now light grey instead of a dark grey, because we cannot currently source a dark grey pigment. Then explain to them that they either choose the varied colour or have no coating at all. This all started about five months ago. We thought we would see some stability throughout Chinese New Year but it has become worse.”

RLA Group – Managing Director, Troy Hogan alongside the RLA team, have launched a new formula that is low in VOC content.

“The technical team have been under a lot of pressure but they have done a really great job in ensuring that these products can be adjusted. They are an older team so they know these products really well. The technical team are very experienced and I believe this is our advantage over multinational competitors in that we can make any changes we need to make locally.” 

“I do not need someone in France or Germany to approve the formula change. We can control it here and make those calls now. While the work has been hard we have done well, considering the circumstances compared to our peers, as we have managed to keep supply most of the time,” Mr Hogan said.

Fierce competition

RLA understands that while there are a lot of low-end products in the market, Mr Hogan believes RLA does not need to compete with inferior products because once customers switch to RLA’s products, it is unlikely they would opt for cheaper products again.

“We are not in the low-end space so we just do not feel we have to compete with low end products. While understanding the customer has options and we might be more expensive, backed by our warranty, we have full faith in our product’s ability. RLA does not really worry about the low end products because we make quality products that perform well and we do not cut costs. It is not a discussion we have,” he said.

“I also believe our customers have a high degree of loyalty not only to our brand but also to our people. Also, I am a great believer of people buying from people. The team are really good and care about what they do – they are passionate and care about their customer and this shows in the loyalty that reflects back from our customers.”

“We are in the adhesive game and at the end of the day we make glue. There is over ten of us in the market that do the same thing. RLA make a good product but so do most of our peers – I think our team and products have achieved a lot in ensuring customers loyalty and good will of quality, representation and on-going branding,” he said.

Market trends

Mr Hogan stated that green is on-trend in all elements of the market, this is also the case with packaging because recycling has become a high priority for consumers. 

“The circular economy in packaging is very important to our customers. While one element of having a green product is about your formulation, what raw materials you use and what nasties are emitted, the other part is about the packaging you are using including recycled paper bags, plastic bags, etc.”

Mr Hogan said tradies, for example, are constantly pushing for lower wait times when it comes to sticking a tile on the wall.

“There is a growing trend towards rapid set products because tradies want to stick a tile on the wall and know it will set in two hours instead of eight. In saying this we still need to be very careful on how quickly products dry. This is because tradies will still need time to gun silicone into a window and run their finger along the window to tool it off to make sure it is smooth and aesthetically pleasing. Tradies may wish for it to set in five minutes but if it goes too quick you cannot smooth it off, so we have to find that balance between workability and speed as well, which is always a technical challenge.”

He said another growing trend is the way in which RLA’s customers source their product information. “So often they will go to our website or our YouTube channel and they get their information from there rather than ring us. All initial enquires answered seem to be via digital now.”

RLA continues to grow and develop its low VOC product range while educating the consumers on the advancements the product offers, as well as its proposition to the market.

“Our value proposition to the market is delivering reliable, good quality and reasonable priced products. We are not at the top end, like Ferrari but we also are not the Datsun. RLA are in that reliable, consistent, trusted middle space and we do have a solution for our customers,” he said.