It might be easier to eat soup with a fork than to bring India's entire far-flung plastic market together on a single Web portal. But that's exactly what Plastemart.com has set out to do.
The 6-year-old site recently hit the mark of 3,000 unique visitors per day. Managing Director Lalit Shah - who founded the Mumbai, India-based company with his wife, Kavita - said that number could hit 4,000 by year's end.
To date, Plastemart.com has offered a little of everything to Indian plastics processors and related firms. A good share of its volume is in buying and selling used machinery and molds, as well as scrap and recycled resin. But the site also is big on job placement, and publishes resin prices and listings from Indian materials companies, as well as materials futures contracts from the London Metal Exchange.
About half of Plastemart.com's 50,000 users are in India. The site traffic had been split similarly, but has shifted so that 60 percent of activity is coming from outside the country, Lalit Shah said at the recent Plastindia trade show.
``Our profile in the last year and a half has changed drastically,'' said Shah, who holds degrees from Mumbai's Indian Institute of Technology and from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. ``Everybody wants to know more about India, and now they're spending on machinery and technology. Now we're settling deals from all parts of the world for larger, more expensive machines,'' he said.
But like many other dot-com survivors, the path was a bit twisted. In 1987, Lalit Shah founded an original equipment manufacturing firm making mechanical control cables for the auto industry. In that role, Shah bought plastic resins like nylon, acetal and polyethylene. There, he saw a need for an industrywide Web portal.
The Shahs launched Plastemart.com and sold their original firm. Their timing wasn't great. ``We started in the dot-com boom, but before we hit any milestones, it had gone bust,'' said Lalit Shah. ``People looked at you like you were just looking for a fast buck. It was hard for them to believe that you could provide good value.''
But the Shahs stuck to their belief that the market needed a way to do neutral analysis and market research before making purchases. Today they own half of Plastemart.com, with about a dozen investors holding the other half.
Their firm employs 30 and hosts about 50 advertisers. The Shahs declined to provide sales.