CHICAGO - They say they can do it better, cheaper and with greater innovation.
At least five international plastics exhibitors made it to the International Housewares Show in Chicago for the first time, vowing to take market share in an increasingly competitive retail market. Officials from firms that already have a share are lacing up their running shoes.
``We've made some nice inroads and we expect to have wide distribution this year in the mass market,'' said Allen Harris, owner of International Home Products, a 1-year-old firm in Buffalo Grove, Ill., that specializes in bringing in housewares products from Italy. He was representing a.b.m. Italia SpA, an injection molding firm in Venice, Italy. Harris categorized the firm's U.S. sales as ``many millions.''
``We want to expand our line in storage,'' said Managing Director Lucio Spadotto. ``In Europe there is too much competition in domestic.''
The trend is evident to A.J. Riedel, a housewares market consultant from Phoenix, who highlighted two influencing factors: efforts by the International Housewares Association to recruit those firms, and technological trends that are making international business easier. IHA is the Rosemont, Ill.-based trade group that sponsors the housewares show, held Jan. 13-15.
``IHA is really making a concerted effort to get new people in,'' Riedel said in a Jan. 24 telephone interview. ``I have been approached by several companies wanting to get into the U.S. market, but 10 years ago I didn't have an Internet site, either.''
Here's a rundown of some of the firms and what their officials plan.
Yafit Plastics Industries Ltd. - ``We're doing everything to get bigger,'' said Mickey Librus, product development manager of the 'Afula, Israel-based company.
The firm's products include a collapsible dish rack and a new line of children's products. Yafit recently added one 850- and one 650-ton machine, bringing its total to 20 at a plant in Israel. The firm will move into another facility by year's end, although those plans are not solid yet.
Yafit does 90 percent of its business in exports, targeting Europe and North and South America.
``These are the main places to push it,'' Librus said.
Palm Polycarbonate Products - The Moorabbin, Australia-based injection molder primarily serves the automotive market, but made its debut at the show with a line of ultrasonically welded, polycarbonate stemware designed to compete with wine glasses.
``I'm not worried about the current economic environment in the United States,'' said Robert Wilson, managing director. ``I have a long-term view.''
The firm operates one facility in Australia and touts itself as the only company in the market selling PC stemware. The company stuck with PC
because it is dishwasher-safe and virtually unbreakable, Wilson said.
Managing Director Robert Wilson would not disclose company sales, but said his strategy for the U.S. market is ``to do some small-scale marketing and selling of our product to validate sizes, shapes, colors and all other product issues.''
He added, ``I'm not worried about the current economic environment in the United States. I have a long-term view.''
The firm has injection presses with 200 tons of clamping force and below.
Hai Plastics - The newest to housewares, the Petah-Tiqwa, Israel-based firm, is stressing innovation with nesting lids on stackable food containers.
``We're looking for distribution for this range of products,'' said Guy Gat, the firm's export and marketing manager. ``It's a big market and we want as much as we can get, but we don't want to offer a `me, too' product.''
The company will open a new facility in February in Petah-Tiqwa, equipping it with 25 Demag machines with clamping forces of 50-300 tons. Officials would not disclose sales or how much they are investing in the expansion.
The plant will be the firm's third facility in Israel. Hai claims to be the largest producer of plastic cutlery and food packaging in Israel.
Pl sticos Ter Sil SA de CV - The Puebla, Mexico-based injection molder is investing $1 million to construct a 20,000-square-foot facility in Puebla and is eyeing the United States and Canada, ready to make its move, said administrative manager Guillermo Gomez.
The company believes in introducing at least two or three products per month, as innovation is the key to remaining competitive, Gomez said.
Officials will shift manufacturing from their current Puebla facility, which is one-third the size of the new facility. They will add four machines of 60 to 320 tons, bringing their total to 30. The new facility will be completed by August, he said.
The firm currently employs 130 and anticipates 15 percent employment growth.
Despite the influx, U.S.-based firms are not shaken.
``We're not losing any sleep over it,'' said James Tennant, president of Chicago-based Home Products International Inc., who maintained that successful entry into the U.S. market requires more than having product. Any company would have to overcome logistical issues.
``If you're selling into the U.S., you're selling through Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target,'' he said in a Jan. 23 telephone interview. ``Those three alone comprise over 5,000 stores. Understanding the channel is every bit as important.''
``My experience with international companies is that they don't do their homework,'' she said.
``I don't think companies have an appreciation for how hard it is to break into a retailer, especially the big three.''