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Do you know your competition?

Where is your competitor? Down the street? Across the country? Across the ocean? How well do you know them? Do you want to know them? Any decent plastics processor does.

I got a call a couple years ago from a company not at all involved in the plastics industry. It was looking to diversify its business and was considering acquiring a moldmaker in the U.S. The caller was an officer in the company and he had lots of questions for me about the health of the plastics and moldmaking industries (early recession at the time), and concerns about the viability of the acquisition. He also asked me about competition as well and I had one piece of advice for him: Go to China.

The premise of my advice was simple: If you''re serious about learning the industry and understanding your competition, you have to go see them. Get on an airplane, fly to Guangzhou or Shanghai, and spend a solid two weeks touring moldmaking shops there. On the way home, stop in Taiwan and see what you can see there, as well. Or, fly west when you go home, stop off in Portugal, and spend some time in Marinha Grande seeing what moldmakers there can do. No matter what, in the end the money spent is well worth the insight to be gained from the experience; the more you know about your competition, the better informed you are about how other shops operate, the more effectively you can make decisions about the direction of your own business.

Of course, this applies not just to moldmaking, but to all processes-injection, extrusion, blowmolding, thermoforming. And one organization that''s done a very good job for a long time in getting processors into China to see the competition is the Society of the Plastics Industry, which for the past several years has organized a series of trade missions to China and Mexico. Last year''s mission to China, timed to coincide with Chinaplas in Shanghai, drew 19 missionary processors from a variety of organizations in the U.S. While there they met with other processors and government representatives, and got a good look at what the Chinese plastics processing industry has to offer.

And so it was with great expectation that this year''s mission to China, again timed around Chinaplas, was organized with high hopes of strong attendance. Unfortunately, in mid-May the SPI was forced to cancel the mission due to lack of interest. Only two companies had signed up for the trip, and that did not include MPW, which was planning to send an editor along as well.

I would like to think that the American plastics industry has recovered sufficiently that no one has time to go on a trade mission, or that a critical mass of processors in the U.S. have already been to China, and so the available pool of potential China-goers is small. Or, maybe such a trip is just not affordable for most processors.

I can''t help wondering, though, if indifference and disinterest are the cause. I can''t help wondering if there just aren''t enough processors out there who understand the value in going to China and seeing for themselves what they''re up against. Because one thing is certain: Even if you don''t get to China, the Chinese will get themselves here. They already do. Every major plastics industry trade show we attend has a larger and larger Asian contingent to it.

They don''t call this globalization for nothing, and that means we all need to get out and see what the rest of the plastics world is up to. In the meantime, we''ll do what we can to keep bringing the plastics world to you.

Jeff Sloan, Editor-in-Chief

[email protected]

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