As the world shrinks, compounders will have to get ``glocal'' to prosper.
``We need to have global reach, but with a local service level,'' said Dario Cardenas, business equipment commercial manager for PolyOne Corp. of Cleveland, North America's largest compounder. ``That's what being glocal is all about.''
Last year, PolyOne generated about 22 percent - roughly $400 million - of its sales for plastic colors and compounds from outside of North America. Twenty-five of its 84 wholly owned and joint venture production sites are outside of its home region as well.
``Resin suppliers are supplying the same base resin globally, and compounders have to do the same thing,'' Cardenas said at Performance Compounding 2002, an industry event held April 11-12 in San Antonio. ``Even on a customer level, companies like Nypro [Inc.] are located everywhere around the world.''
PolyOne is one of a small number of nonintegrated compounders that can make a claim to global compounding. Others include A. Schulman Inc., Clariant SA, Ampacet Corp., Teknor Apex Co., Ferro Corp. and LNP Engineering Plastics Inc., which recently was acquired by GE Plastics.
``A lot of suppliers are at the mercy of [original equipment manufacturers] who don't know where they'll be operating tomorrow,'' Cardenas said. ``We call it `extruders on wheels.' Nobody's forcing you to be in different regions, but if you want to play, that's what it takes.''
Basell Polyolefins compounding business director Giuseppe Saggese agreed, saying those compounders not taking a multinational approach will be reduced to exporting from their home locations.
``You have to be able to compete with low-cost Chinese masterbatches and everything else that's out there,'' Saggese said.
Cultural sensitivities and regional preferences also come to the fore. For example, South American consumers prefer white appliances and tend to avoid those in other shades.
``White is a key color in South America,'' PolyOne's Cardenas said. ``People want [appliances] to look clean. They don't like shades of brown.''
Even communication with customers has to be thought out. Typing in capital letters may be done just to get attention in North America, but in South America, it's the equivalent of cursing at someone or insulting them, Cardenas added.
There can be some disadvantages along the global path. Just as consolidation has created ``a layer of international suppliers who can supply automotive and packaging compounds across the globe,'' it also has made those firms less flexible and reduced their speed in the marketplace, according to AMI LLC President John Jones.
``[International suppliers] can't go after niches as easily,'' Jones said.
Some cultural matters also don't translate across different regions, added Mark Bruner, general manager of Muehlstein Compounded Products in Houston.
``There are still a lot of markets, such as building and construction, that are very North America-oriented,'' Bruner said. ``You don't build houses the same way in Europe and Asia that you do in the U.S.''
Multinational compounders also have to deal with customers using local suppliers as leverage against larger firms, according to Cardenas. However, even taking local competition into account, AMI research director Andrew Reynolds said compounders often overestimate the amount of competition they're up against.
``There's a huge number of compounders in the world - between 500 and 600 in North America alone - but each company has their own specialty,'' Reynolds said.
``There might be only two or three other companies that can compete geographically in what you do well. But this perceived competition unnaturally drives prices down.''