Former machinery company executive Bill Carteaux brought a sense of urgency when he assumed the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s top post in March 2005.
Carteaux now has the nonprofit trade group focusing on aggressive ways to fill its coffers while seeking to create new programs that provide value to members. His next big thing: a Web portal called myPlasticsIndustry.com. It aspires to become the industry's ``single source of news and market intelligence,'' while also linking buyers and sellers and other industry professionals - and making SPI money.
Sound familiar? Others have ventured down the business-to-business Web path, with less than stellar results. Commerx Inc.'s PlasticsNet.com launched in the mid-1990s and, despite the energetic leadership of online visionary Tim Stojka during the dot-com boom, never became the plastics industry's primary online portal. VerticalNet, which tried a cookie-cutter approach of applying a templated Web site design to dozens of very different vertical industries, eventually bought PlasticsNet - but, even so, never gained traction.
Akron, Ohio-based Polysort was born to serve the rubber and plastics sectors as the polymer industry's marketplace and information portal. It has changed focus several times and, while still serving as an online community, now spends much of its time providing Web site building, optimization, hosting and other services.
What makes SPI believe myPlasticsIndustry.com will succeed? Well, for one, online technology has advanced. Internet usage among business executives has grown into a more accepted communication and commerce channel. Additionally, SPI touts its database of U.S. plastics personnel, drawn from its membership and registration list of its NPE trade show.
That's a good start. But the venture still faces many challenges. The travails of building a complicated software suite have caused the portal's launch to be delayed twice already, and SPI still will not commit to a firm launch date, beyond promising a roll-out next month. It remains to be seen if people who registered to attend a plastics trade show are happy about being included in a searchable online database. The new portal will include a jobs board, which one SPI official believes ``may be the real sleeper'' in this project. He may be right, but how many people will choose to participate, and how fresh will SPI keep the postings?
Stojka, CEO of Fast Heat Inc., believes Carteaux is on the right track by trying to make information management and delivery a key SPI service. But, Stojka cautions, ``It's going to take a dedicated effort.'' That is where so many others have slipped, by not devoting enough resources to keeping the data fresh.
Carteaux enthusiastically cites the search-engine and personalization features of the software created by project partner BDMetrics Inc. as a key to myPlasticsIndustry.com's future success. But it has yet to be proved that good software can create a winning b-to-b business model where none has existed before.
Robert Grace is Plastics News editor and associate publisher.