This week, the plastics industry expects to experience the most international NPE show in the 69-year history of the event.
The growth is quite dramatic, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
A record 43 percent of all 2015 exhibitors come from outside the United States, and that does not include many companies that are based in other countries but exhibiting through their U.S. subsidiaries.
China, taking the lead among the 37 participating foreign countries, is sending its largest-ever contingent of 413 exhibitors to Orlando.
To put things in a better perspective, that's about a third of the number of U.S. exhibitors (1,250) or more than 20 percent of total exhibitors (projected to exceed 2,000).
Strong participation also comes from Canada (75 exhibitors), Italy (57), Taiwan (51), Germany (35), India (33), Turkey (25), Switzerland (21), France (20) and South Korea (14).
“The great size and international makeup of NPE 2015 reflects the importance and value of plastics and plastics manufacturing in our world,” said Gene Sanders, SPI senior vice president of trade shows and conferences, in a statement.
“It's a tremendous turnout,” Michael Taylor, SPI's senior director of international affairs and trade, told Plastics News in a phone interview.
He believes the strong momentum in the U.S. economy is attracting businesses from all over the world.
“If you look around the world, you know the U.S. economy is doing very well. So from a business development standpoint, we are one of the growth markets right now,” he said. “A lot of the downstream industries that are important for plastics companies, in particular the North American automotive industry, are doing really well too.”
The trade fair's strategic location in Orlando also offers access to Central and South America, another growth region as well, he added.
SPI has made a big push on global participation, Taylor said. One of the most fruitful methods was to deliver trade presentations at industry meetings.
“No matter how digital we get, how small the world becomes in terms of communication technology, the world still really revolves around relationships and face-to-face [interactions].”
That certainly holds true for Asian countries.
“In Asia, coming [here] is a big deal. Showing up, meeting and them getting to know you, and being there for every Chinaplas, and all that, it means something and it's a big deal,” Taylor said. “People need a personal touch.”
Commenting on the record number of Chinese exhibitors — 21.1 percent higher than 2012 and more than double the 2009 number — he said a lot of Chinese companies want to get into the U.S. market.
Especially at a time of domestic slowdown and overcapacity in China.
“China's plastics industry was rapidly growing but now has slowed down, so manufacturers need to go outside to find new opportunities,” said Erica Cheng, director of Beijing-based Gedy Inc., which has been helping SPI recruit Chinese exhibitors since 2006.
“There are obstacles for machines to export to India,” she added, referring to India's antidumping tariffs on Chinese injection molding machines.
So it's only natural for the Chinese companies to want to penetrate the U.S. market. However, most of them have difficulties in doing so, Taylor said.
From his experience speaking at the China Plastics Machinery Industry Association's meetings, he said the Chinese firms “are always talking about improving their own technology, getting more sophisticated in what they manufacture. And they always comment on how they mostly get into the U.S. market on the low end of the machinery market and how they'd like to move up in terms of the value of the products they are getting into the market.”
He offers some advice and suggestions that might help. “Put more time and effort into bigger space, and designing their space, that makes a huge difference.”
Big numbers, small space
Even though number-wise Chinese companies represent more than 20 percent of total exhibitors, they make up for just 12 percent of the show floor exhibit space, said Brad Williams, SPI director, trade show marketing and sales.
“Their average booth is slightly below our show average given the shipping challenges and expenses,” he told Plastics News.
Gedy's Cheng echoed that, and said many booths are as small as 100 square feet. “Many are first-time exhibitors, a lot of them are mold makers.”
It's not just the booth size though, it's the whole package of the presentation for any exhibitor to project an image that fits their business development goals.
But that doesn't seem to be the forte of many Chinese exhibitors.
As a post-event reflection of the last NPE show, the China Plastics Processing Industry Association wrote in an April 25 memo: “Overall, Chinese exhibits in the NPE 2012 did not present China's plastics industry in a positive light. Physical and aesthetic deterrents such as small booths, poor booth placement, and unimaginative booth designs reflected poorly on exhibitors and the greater Chinese plastic industry. These factors reduced the attractiveness of Chinese exhibitors to potential clients.”
“If I'm an American company, and I'm interested in China and I go by and I see all these Chinese pavilions and they all look exactly alike. I'm probably not going to be inclined to go over to talk to them,” Taylor said.
“But there are some Chinese companies that really get it. They have a lounge, you meet the executives, they host you, they put an effort into the presentation, and they stand out. In your mind, you say, ‘Hey, that's a potential partner. These other companies, I don't know.'
“It's already kind of a black hole for many American companies, to be honest. If they all look alike, then that's problematic. You don't get the opportunity to have a real conversation.”
Taylor said Washington-based SPI, the organizer of NPE, has been trying to help exhibitors understand the importance of the presentation.
“I know this is a message many of them have been getting but probably not enough. I'm not sure they see the value of it, to be honest.” But he continues to try.
“If you are going into a new market, you have to realize what it requires, you have to be willing to invest in all of that, and you have to think long term. You can't just come to one NPE and have a booth [that looks the] same as everybody else from China, and think you are going to penetrate the market, that you are going to have a lot of transactions. It's just not going to work that way.
“It's not the Chinese that are this way,” Taylor said. “A lot of businesses just underestimate market entry.”
The bottom line is, he said, “you have to understand it requires a big effort, a focused effort, and a significant amount of resources, and you have to think long term.”
Some Chinese companies are already doing that, setting up facilities in the U.S. and bringing on board local employees and executives who have the knowledge and experience in the market.
“Whenever a Chinese company does that, then I know they are poised to go places, they are doing all the right things,” Taylor said. “Then they become part of the industry here in the U.S., they become part of the supply chain.”