WASHINGTON — Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. membership slipped slightly in the three months after the group dramatically sliced its dues to attract new companies.
SPI leaders say the campaign to increase membership has not yet gotten into full swing. In fact, the group has just adopted a restructuring of its core departments, the second phase of a revamping that started in early 1997.
SPI officials said they have seen an overall increase in membership in the last year, and they attribute the summer drop to normal decreases during that time of year, consolidation among member companies and some defections to rival trade groups, particularly from SPI's Composites Institute to the Composites Fabricators Association.
``On average our membership is continuing to grow,'' said SPI spokeswoman Jennifer Dills. But she said Washington-based SPI would not provide specific figures.
A report presented to SPI leaders early this month and obtained by Plastics News said that membership declined from 1,634 down to 1,603 in the three months after May 31, when the dues cut fully kicked in.
The group has seen several major resin companies leave SPI in the last year, after its merger talks with resin-company-dominated American Plastics Council stalled.
The leaders of SPI's largest unit, the N.Y.-based Composites Institute, left earlier this year because they questioned whether SPI provided enough value. CI membership dropped from about 400 to 370, while CFA in Arlington, Va., said its members have increased from its usual 700-750 range but said an accurate count would be available after it drops nonpaying companies.
SPI board members expressed confidence in the organization.
``There has been some soul searching going on trying to determine if [companies] are getting the proper bang for the buck from SPI,'' said James Mason, president of Superfos Packaging Inc. in Cumberland, Md. ``When it's all said and done ... they are going to come to the conclusion that SPI should be the spokesman for the plastics industry.''
Tim Stojka, president of Fast Heat Inc. in Elmhurst, Ill., said the board is confident SPI is making strong progress on re- cruiting new companies, and that board members are not concerned about the summer drop.
``I don't think anybody is concerned about it now, but in six months it might be a different story,'' he said.
SPI Chairman Harry Ussery, president of Beacon Plastics, Inc. in Greenville, S.C., said the organization is meeting its goal of attracting larger processors, such as Nypro Inc., Rubbermaid Inc. and Tupperware Corp. SPI's dues cut dropped the tab for the largest processors from a maximum of $164,000 down to $10,000.
The group had membership gains in the previous two board meetings, in January and May, before losses in the October report, Ussery said.
And financially, SPI officials said the organization is strong, in spite of what the membership report said is a drop of $953,000 in dues from lost members. But the group also cleared about $9 million after expenses from last year's NPE trade show, which officials said was a strong event.
SPI officials said only a small percentage of the processing industry belongs to SPI, but many of those companies are small and have few resources to join trade groups. SPI has a much larger portion of the industry's medium-and larger-sized processors, Ussery said.
The group also hopes to get its membership campaign in full swing this year, adding salespeople to all four of its regional offices, up from two currently, Ussery said. And the group has been redesigning its sales literature to reflect the organizational changes under way, he said.
``There's been a lot things going on in SPI, and staying focused on this has been difficult,'' he said.
SPI has more than 2,000 members, including industry publications, consultants and firms that want to be associate members.
The general restructuring of SPI's core budget, adopted by the board, must now be translated into details that the board hopes to adopt in January, Ussery said. The core budget accounts for about $12 million of SPI's $30 million in spending. Restructuring in SPI's noncore business units, which make up the rest of its spending, started last year.
Each of the three teams under the new structure will have committees composed of 20 member firms that will determine how the teams spend money, he said.
``The main thing is giving a more direct link to members,'' Ussery said.
A board member who spoke on condition on anonymity said the board is happy with SPI's restructuring.
``If they did nothing and continued rolling along and not take a serious look at what they needed to do, there would be some issues,'' the board member said. ``The overall sense I got from the entire board is they are very pleased with the direction.''