MEXICO CITY — ``Dignifying plastic'' and changing its image were the main reasons why Mexican rotational molder Grupo Rotoplas recently was singled out as ``Company of the Decade'' for that country's plastics industry, according to the firm's president, Horacio Lobo Zeruche.
He accepted the award from the Instituto Mexicano del Plastico Industrial (Mexican Institute of the Plastics Industry) and the National Manufacturing Industry Council, called Canacintra, at IMPI's March 13 seminar for plastics processors.
But if anything can be learned from his example, Lobo told the processors, it is ``that a Mexican company can succeed with Mexican technology, without relying on foreign know-how.''
Rotoplas produces lightweight, rotomolded water tanks. Lobo said the process was unknown in Mexico 15 years ago when the company started, as was the idea of replacing cement-asbestos tanks with plastic ones. Now Rotoplas has branched out to six plants operating throughout Mexico (each operating as an individual firm), plus one that opened last year in Guatemala. Another plant is to open as a joint venture in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this year. In a recent interview at the firm's headquarters in Mexico City, Lobo said the company undertook an ambitious project in trying to convince customers to change preferences for their water tanks — a trend that began to take hold in Mexico about seven years ago. But the company's darkest times came with the country's recent economic crisis. Rotoplas' sales in 1995 plunged 70 percent after the December 1994 peso crash.
Lobo said the 500-employee Rotoplas is doing well now and continues to be the market leader, although he declined to comment on sales, profit, or the firm's exact market share. The key was adapting to market conditions and the changing needs of suppliers, distributors and consumers. For example, when new-home construction all but ceased because of the financial crisis, the firm focused instead on replacing old tanks.
Rotoplas continues its aggressive marketing, which includes a children's environmental program on Sunday, and regular television ads, another first for this type of domestic construction.
Rotoplas began in Mexico City in 1978 producing storage tanks for industry. This year, plans are under way to manufacture specialized products for agriculture, such as 5,200-gallon storage tanks, and other mobile or fixed tanks designed for fertilizers, pesticides or feed.
``We have studied the market and see the needs, but the big problem is the transportation infrastructure to reach our customers on the farms and ranches in rural states such as Oaxaca,'' Lobo said.
The company is about to hire someone to aid in marketing and distribution, he said. Rotoplas continues to expand into other Latin American markets, driven by a desire to serve construction sectors in Guatemala and Argentina.
``They wanted the technology, and they supply us with the knowledge of the local markets and distribution systems,'' Lobo said.
He said the Company of the Decade award allows Rotoplas to offer encouragement to plastics companies facing problems.
Firms wishing to follow Rotoplas' example must dare to be different, as Rotoplas was when it pushed its innovative products into the then-new residential market, or when it entered children's TV. The company even puts floats into community parades to promote its products.
For advice, Lobo adds simply: ``Be creative.''