By Frank Witsil Detroit Free Press.
Twenty years ago, Randy Rubin and her husband, Craig, invented a super fabric to resist stains and make liquids bead and roll off. It was durable, yet still soft, attractive -- and good for several commercial applications.
"The trick to business is when there's a huge problem, you create a solution," Randy Rubin said.
They patented their space-age material, called it Crypton (more on the name in a moment) -- and their first customer was McDonald's.
Crypton now can be found around the world in restaurants, hotels and homes. In January, the 130-employee company with annual sales of up to $50 million acquired Nanotex, a company that makes chemical treatments for apparel, which had been based in Oakland, Calif.
The Rubins, who started in an office in the basement of their Franklin home, are co-chairs of the company. They still share an office, but it is now at their headquarters in Bloomfield Hills. It also has a glass wall down the middle to divide the space. (Randy Rubin said her husband talks too loudly on the phone.)
In her half of the office, Randy Rubin sat for an interview:
QUESTION: Could you tell us how this product was invented in 1993?
ANSWER: It was invented as a solution to a big problem. It was almost impossible to have a decorative fabric that would stand up to the abuse of people coming to a restaurant and spilling on it. What was used was a vinylized fabric that would crack and peel. Craig was selling textiles. People would complain to him, and he kept thinking that there had to be a way to solve the problem. His grandfather has invented the folding chair, the movie seat and folding cots -- so invention is in his genes.
Q: How tough was it to bring to market?
A: I think it was a lot of stars aligning. We had a piece of Crypton at a hospitality show and we ran into a woman who said, "I heard you had this special fabric and I just want to see it." She was in a T-shirt and jeans and you'd never know she was someone you want as a key customer. We showed her the fabric, and a long story short: She was the global director of redesigning McDonald's stores. She said: "I want you to go to McDonald's headquarters and I want to test out this fabric. McDonald's is trying to change its image." We went to McDonald's. She spilled barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, you name it. She took a cloth to it, and it came off. She said to Craig and I, "Wow, you are really going to be rich." They became our first customer.
Q: The name Crypton. It makes me think about Superman.
A: We couldn't figure out a name to save our lives. The best thing we came up with was Proteson, it was like protection and son. But, it was like the name of a condom. It wasn't good. So Craig was driving down the highway in Carolina and we started seeing billboards with Superman on them. Craig said: "Superman is from the planet Krypton. But instead of K, we could go C for Craig, R for Randy. We make bulletproof fabric. Wouldn't that be cool?"
Q: Randy, you've done many different things in your career. You've been an elementary school teacher, a paralegal, you've put together programs to empower women. Now, you are chairwoman of a multimillion dollar company. What is it like to be a woman at the top?
A: Twenty years ago, if you would have said to me that we would have our own plant, or have the kind of people we have or our own offices, and to try to achieve those kinds of things, that was beyond my goal. It was beyond my dream.
Q: Do you think there will be more women in business?
A: There definitely will be more women. But, I think there also are more women that are saying that they want to be a wife and mother and want to stay home, too. I know in my daughter's generation it is very acceptable to be a stay-at-home mom. In my generation, we were all trying to go to work and looking to validate ourselves more.
Q: What about your granddaughters?
A: One is going to study the ocean and the other is going to do something where she's going to make a lot of money. I believe my granddaughters are going to be career women. And if they choose not to be, that's fine. But, I think that definitely more and more women will be in power.
Q: What's your advice for someone who wants to be an entrepreneur?
A: If you want to become an entrepreneur, make sure you have something that fills a need or solves a problem. Someone will always pay for something if it brings value. We have a saying around here: Don't be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try. You've got to give it a very sincere try with the idea in mind that you are going to make it. Oh, and you don't open a restaurant because you like to cook.