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Plastic Perspectives
Much has been written and discussed about "adding value" – yet executing cleverly, profitably and in ways unique has been elusive. Now comes several initiatives from the distribution business, albeit not plastics … however the principles apply and herewith some food for thought.

In the tool distribution business, by 2004, companies will begin offering instant Web access to personal service assistants. By the end of the decade, manufacturers, distributors and retailers will create billions of dollars in added value by offering a broad range of after-sale installation, customization and maintenance service options for their products.

Look for the home improvement industry to begin hooking up their customers with cyberbased handymen. A simple handheld device – a wireless Web communicator the size of a mini-flashlight with a built-in camera, microphone and audio speaker will allow customers to obtain expert advice via the Internet for every conceivable project. The technology for accomplishing these tasks already exist. The same concepts will allow online advice to plastic fabricators. Who will be the first in our industry?

In the electrical distribution industry (think Wesco and Grainger), technology exists from e-business vendor Vignette, which allows accessing suppliers - instead of trading phone calls and faxes with suppliers, employees can merely hit a function key on their computers and see what’s in stock at twenty of their largest suppliers. To overcome the reluctance of manufacturers to display their complete inventory – the system only shows the amount the distributor is looking for, providing its there and/or expected into inventory. Displaying prices is up next – what a way to add value by improving response time and accuracy, which is passed on to the distributors customer. Once again an idea and computer based technology ready to go to the most innovative.

Returning in June 2003 – the National Plastics Exposition (NPE) to be held in Chicago’s McCormick Place and showcasing some of the America’s best plastics companies – those contributing to making our industry the fastest growing industry in the U.S., producing $324 billion in annual shipments and providing over 1.5 million jobs (2000 statistics).

Among the innovative new market sectors that plastics shapes and fabrications will serve in this first decade of the 21st century are expected to be:

  • Critical medical devices
  • Micro-precise electronic connectors
  • Metal-replacing gears
  • Rubber-replacing gaskets
  • Fasteners - cryogenic
  • Automotive glazing
  • Pipes and valves – aerospace

On another important and perennial subject – manufacturers and distributors agree that changing the nature of their working relationships would lead to improved sales and profits as well as higher levels of customer satisfaction. Most are caught in a paradox – on one hand they realize that changing their working relationships lead to all of their individual goals – on the other hand they don’t usually trust each other.

Without trust there is no commitment. Without commitment there can be no meaningful change. Without change, sales performance, profitability and customer satisfaction will continue to suffer.

What to do? By comparing the benefits of change to the costs of doing business as usual, both manufacturers and distributors will have an objective means of dealing with this distribution paradox.

Now available once again after being out of print … PLASTICS HISTORY USA - by DuBois, the classic volume on our industry is available from

Correction: In our column in the May/June 2002 issue of The Plastics DistributorÒ & Fabricator Magazine, we presented a table of trademarks for PETG sheet. Inadvertently, we omitted Spartech who has the rights to the SpectarÒ brand sheet from Eastman. Further the UltrosÒ name attributed to Lustro, in fact acquired by Spartech, has been succeeded by Spectar.

For more information, click on the Author Biography link at the top of this page.

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