By: Frank Esposito
May 6, 2013
HOUSTON — Materials supplier First PolyChem LLC is helping meet the growing resin needs of North Africa and the Middle East through its relationships with resin makers around the world.
The agency company works with 15 materials makers worldwide, including eight based in the United States, to sell commodity resins — including polyethylene, PVC and polypropylene — as well as plasticizers, pigments, solvents and related materials to plastic processors in such countries as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
"We can fill in the gaps that other companies can't fill," managing director Brahim Benzakour said in a recent phone interview. Benzakour founded the firm in Houston in 2009 before returning to his native Morocco in 2011. First PolyChem now operates offices in Houston and in Temara, Morocco.
Benzakour had lived in the U.S. since 1996, first as a college student. A stint of more than three years in Houston with global materials distributor Vinmar International Ltd. helped him learn the ins and outs of the resin trade.
Benzakour took the plunge and started his own business in 2009. Some of his firm's main customers now are in Algeria — where resin demand is growing at a rate of more than 6 percent per year — and Morocco, where annual growth has been in the 3-5 percent range. Benzakour declined to identify his firm's suppliers, citing confidentiality agreements.
The firm's largest traded product by volume is PVC, more than half of which is sold into pipe extrusion. PVC is needed in markets with construction growth. PVC growth in Algeria, for example, has been on the rise because of infrastructure spending, Benzakour said. First PolyChem sold more than 5 million pounds of PVC in April alone.
Benzakour declined to provide overall sales data for the firm, but he said that it has been able to double its sales volume both financially and in pounds each year. Sales through April already had matched results for full-year 2012, he said.
Although it operates two sales offices, First PolyChem does not own its own warehouses, since it does not take physical possession of its resin shipments. The firm is compensated for its business by the materials firms that it represents.
Currently, First PolyChem has three employees, but Benzakour said increased business will lead him to add two more sales reps in Morocco by midyear. The firm also would like to add more grades of PE, such as blow molding offerings, to its product mix.
Recent announcements of new PE capacity planned for North America will be good for First PolyChem, Benzakour said, because of opportunities to sell into export markets.
North American PE "can easily compete with Saudi Arabia," he said. "I can't wait."
There's plenty of room for processing markets in North Africa and the Middle East to grow, according to Benzakour. "The technology aspect of the market is average, and companies don't tend to be as highly innovative," he said. "But most of the companies are friends with one another, and there are a lot of family businesses, so there's less bureaucracy."
And in spite of occasional political turmoil in First PolyChem's main target regions — such as recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt — Benzakour said there's never been a time when he hasn't been able to contact his customers. "We actually do more business in Tunisia now than we did before the revolution," he added.