Many executives said the year was off to a good start. Then the pandemic caused global shutdowns across almost every industry in March.
"A lot of places shut down and there were some stranded rail cars of resin," said Ed Holland, President and CEO of M. Holland Co. in Northbrook, Ill. "The trough in May wasn't as deep as we expected, and June and July bounced back."
"In mid-March, everything fell off," added Kevin Chase, president of Chase Plastic Services Inc. in Clarkston, Mich. "In automotive, all tiers were shut down until most places made automotive an essential business. We're slowly recovering now."
"We were holding our breath," said Greg Boston, president of General Polymers Thermoplastic Materials LLC in Auburn Hills, Mich. "We still consider ourselves a three-and-a-half-year-old startup. The year started out better than the previous year, but the back half of March fell off."
At Osterman & Co. in Cheshire, Conn., the firm was building on growth it had seen in prime resin distribution in 2018 and 2019, according to Distribution Sales Vice President Dave Dever.
"The first quarter [of 2020] was the best in our almost 50-year history," he said. "But then things changed on a dime.
"We had a lot of nice programs in a lot of places that slowed down or stopped. We wanted to protect our house, so we had to determine which markets were closed and which ones were coming back."
At Avient Corp., formerly PolyOne of Avon Lake, Ohio, the first quarter "was going pretty good, then March came to a screeching halt," Distribution President Scott Horn said. "There was widespread impact, but demand, volume, pricing have rebounded a bit."
Second-quarter sales at Avient's distribution unit were down 22 percent to just under $240 million. The unit's sales for the first half were down 15 percent to just over $528 million.
"We think about COVID on a lot of fronts," said Michael Modak, Interim CEO at Nexeo Plastics LLC of The Woodlands, Texas. "We had to figure out how to keep employees safe while finding out how to get enough [personal protective equipment] and deciding what to do if an employee had COVID."
"When [COVID-19] hit China, we had people on the ground who gave us warning of what to expect," said Kirt Dmytruk, president of Vinmar's Vinmar Polymers America unit. "We had a little bit of a window to plan ahead."
"We definitely saw automotive and durables take a hit. The shutdown was dramatic in a short period of time."
The pandemic "started to pick up significantly for us and the rest of the world" in March, added Joe Mysza, commodity resins vice president at Mass Polymers Corp. in Bridgewater, N.J. "We had to see which resin plants were going to run and where the market was going."
"We really thought we had a black swan incident," said Michael Bernich, president of Jamplast Inc. in Ellisville, Mo. "We wrote a contingency plan, but I'm happy to say that at the peak we were down only 12 percent."
"We've seen North America get hit harder than other regions," added Marco Liuzzo, CEO of MGI International LLC of Melville, N.Y. As a result, MGI's domestic sales volumes are flat to slightly down in the first six months of 2020.
But Liuzzo added that the firm has seen "extremely strong" export demand in 2020, with international sales volumes up more than 50 percent, leading to a first-half volume increase of around 20 percent.