A wonderful industry, this plastics industry! It is large, frequently profitable, growing at a respectable rate, and it makes some wonderful products. It also provides employment for many people. Yet there is another side to it. It is also quite strange in that it is difficult to place an order for plastic raw materials.
In most businesses, salespeople are practically pulling you in from the street with a shepherd's crook to get you to buy. But not in the plastics industry! Here, we make it difficult to buy our precious products. Just how difficult can perhaps best be illustrated with some recent experiences that are condensed into a single case history.
Our firm recently was retained to recommend a specific plastic for a critical application. We were quickly able to zero in on about five possible resins, made by five major producers. The next step was to get prices and a contact for placing an initial order. An obvious place to begin is an industry directory. And this is where the circus begins, as I contact ``Superba Plastics'' to place an order for ``Polymix.''
Operator: The number has been changed; the new number is 555-1234.
I had to redial several times because dithe office had relocated, or the phone number had changed or was for the wrong division, before finally connecting with what I thought was the appropriate place. That contact didn't know the company made Polymix or exactly to whom I should be directed. So I was given another contact to try.
That person turned out to be at the divisional administration office and gave me Polymix sales office number.
Superba Plastics: Good morning, can I help you?
Lantos: I would like to talk with someone in Polymix sales.
Superba Plastics: I'm sorry, this is the customer service office.
Lantos: Can you give me the number of the resin sales office?
Superba Plastics: That number is 555-2345, but you probably won't find anyone in. They are usually on the road. Could someone here help you?
Lantos: Sure, let's try.
Superba Plastics: I'm going to transfer you to Mike.
Mike: This is Mike. Can I help you?
Lantos: I would like to get prices and a contact for placing an order for Polymix.
Mike: I'm sorry, that's Susan's responsibility. She's out of the office now, but I can have her call you. By the way, are you an established customer?
Mike: That's too bad. Our plant is running full out and we may not be able to accept new customers. Anyway, talk to Susan. I'll have her call you.
Several hours later Susan called.
Lantos: I need prices for Polymix. I need a price for a small order of about 5,000 pounds and for truckload.
Susan: Well, we cannot supply small orders. That is handled by our distributor. And I'm not sure our sales departmentwill accept truckload orders from new customers. But you could contact our distributor.
So I contacted the distributor, who, after a short runaround regarding the location of my customer and which salesperson would handle the inquiry, confirmed a price quote and promised to have someone contact me.
Was it really necessary for a major resin firm to put a prospective customer through this? Might there be a better way to handle someone with cash in hand?
It might be argued that a lot of sales are lost by this strange practice of sending a potential customer from pillar to post. But the real loss is when a parts maker decides there are alternatives and makes the part from wood, metal, paper or clay. That is when the plastics industry loses; the rest of the time, it just causes a lot of headaches and lost time.
Must it be this way?
Lantos is president of consulting firm Target Group Inc. of Erdenheim, Pa.