For the most part, NPE 2003 lived up to the expectations of materials suppliers that exhibited there - but many of those firms went into the show with lowered expectations because of a weak economy.
``A lot of our reactions are based on impressions so far, but I think we had a really good show,'' said Kirk Fratzke, communications coordinator for compounder RTP Co. of Winona, Minn. ``We're still doing some lead-counting, but we had a good number of what we call `A' leads, which are leads that we follow up on within a week.''
With profit and sales down for many processors and materials suppliers, the number of registrants at NPE 2003 dropped almost 30 percent compared with the 2000 event. Less than 64,000 signed up this year, compared with more than 90,000 three years ago, according to conference organizers.
A number of materials suppliers said they expected the attendance drop in advance, but were pleasantly surprised with the customers that they saw.
``Our volume may have been down, but the quality of attendees was as good or better than ever,'' according to Michael Gilbert, plastics marketing director for Ashland Distribution Co., a resin distributor based in Dublin, Ohio.
Gilbert said one of Ashland's Midwestern customers sent only five attendees to NPE 2003 after sending 21 in 2000, but each of those five were ``empowered to make decisions at the show.''
``We were seeing a higher percentage of executives and key personnel,'' Gilbert added. ``A lot of our discussions were focused on how, collectively, we could work together to drive cost out of the system.''
Officials at Ampacet Corp., a major color concentrates maker in Tarrytown, N.Y., said they saw a marked increase in booth traffic. Overall traffic was up 15 percent vs. NPE 2000, including a jump of 20 percent in visitors from Asia.
Perhaps more importantly, Ampacet gathered 30 percent more leads at NPE 2003 than it did three years ago. Officials chalked up that boost to Ampacet's introduction of products for the blow molding and injection molding markets. Traditionally, film has been Ampacet's strongest market.
Officials at GLS Corp., a thermoplastic elastomer compounder in McHenry, Ill., echoed Ampacet's reaction, saying that GLS drew twice as many leads at NPE 2003 than it did in 2000.
GLS marketing director Walt Ripple said the number of ``hot leads'' generated at the show also increased, and added that visitors to the GLS booth seemed more serious than in past years.
``People came right up to us with drawings and part designs,'' Ripple said. ``They'd take their drawings out and we'd look at them together right there on the table [at the booth]. They were ready to do business.''
First-time exhibitor Techmer PM, a color concentrates maker in Los Angeles, also was pleased with the show. The firm already has decided to exhibit at NPE 2006, Techmer President John Manuck said.
``We're still assessing leads, but I'd have to say we had excellent activity at our booth,'' said Manuck.
Manuck added that Techmer saw good results from face-to-face meetings with top customer executives who sometimes are difficult to track down.
``We had a number of conversations with high-ranking officials, which led to us drawing up several new business plans,'' he said.
Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.'s Ryton resin-making business generated more than 100 leads at NPE 2003, although some potential customers may have been confused by the company's use of the CPChem logo, which it featured prominently for the first time, said Ryton General Manager Michael McDonnell.
``Normally, we'd have done better [at NPE], but any time a customer shows interest, that's probably good enough,'' said McDonnell, whose business produces polyphenylene sulfide and related materials. ``Some of these leads could bring in business within six months, a year, two years or even five years, with some of these five-year development cycles in automotive.''
RTP's Fratzke said his firm saw ``a little bit of everything'' in the mix of customers making their way through the firm's booth.
``We saw a lot of existing customers, but we also met some processors who were getting ready to use specialty materials in a couple of months,'' he said.