Roger Cockram, a veteran in the South African plastics industry, founded Plastic & Chemical Trading in 1989. With more than 50 years of plastic industry experience under his belt Roger, with the help of his team, has created a business that provides more than just machines to its customers but a lifetime solution entrenched in a culture of exceptional customer service.
Q: Tell us about when you started Plastic & Chemical Trading. Was there a “eureka” moment that led you to establish a foothold in the industry?
A: I think the big moment for us was when KraussMaffei said they wanted someone to represent them in South Africa. This was the moment that allowed us to move away from the raw materials business which is what we were doing at the time, and focus our business entirely on machinery. This is exactly what we wanted and needed and entering into this partnership was a defining moment for us.
Q: What are some of the big changes you have seen since you got started in the industry as an individual and since your entry as a business?
A: It was a totally different way of doing things when I started. I think probably the most significant change was that, when I started the industry was filled with small companies run by dedicated people who really loved what they were doing and really were so excited about developing plastic things. As time has gone on those guys have matured and in many cases sold their companies, some of them have failed, but basically they’re not there in the market or there are very few of them left. Today the plastics industry is a corporate type of industry where people are just doing what that company has been doing forever, which I think is a pity because it stifles growth and excitement in the industry so we don’t have those excited people to deal with anymore.
Q: Plastic & Chemical Trading is a relatively small business in terms of size and some would say you all are like family. How important is family to your business?
A: I don’t think the concept of family in the business is particularly important at this stage but what is important is to have a team that thinks the same way. Perhaps not necessarily the same way but in a way that is complimentary to each other.
Q: What are you customers asking of you, what are some of the greatest demands in the market right now and how are you positioned to respond to these?
A: Because the plastic industry is now the domain of the big corporates we have to approach our business in a way that speaks to their greatest concerns. A big corporate company needs some sort of security that whatever they’re going to do won’t backfire on them and we’ve got to be in a position to reassure them with the knowledge that whatever they’ve bought from us will work. So for us it’s about the service that goes behind it.
Q: How do you work with your customers to get the best advantage out of their machines?
A: I think it’s a question of what the team is doing and how the team is thinking. Today it’s very important to have people who know the job that well that the customers can be supported. In other words, you’ve got to have a perfect service team whose primary focus is on meeting customer needs.
Q: What does Plastic & Chemical Trading’s brand stand for in the local market?
A: Quite simply I think Plastic & Chemical Trading is seen as a company of integrity in the local market because that is the legacy we have worked so hard to achieve.
Q: What is your biggest achievement?
A: Our biggest achievement thus far would be ending up with the team we’ve got.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
A: What interests us is not really an emerging technology as such. Extrusion technologies are potentially a huge focus area for us. We see film extrusion as a growth area where we have no presence and we would probably look to expand in that direction.
Q: You’ve been in the plastics industry for 50 years, is there anything about this industry that continues to surprise you?
A: There really isn’t anything about the plastics industry that surprises me today.
Q: What does your day entail?
A: I’m still relatively actively involved in the business. My day entails catching up with the wealth of stuff that comes across the desk in terms of emails. This involves keeping up with the technology in our industry as well as actively dealing with all the enquiries that come through on a daily basis. Once this is realised I deal with customers’ projects which means studying the most cost effective way of achieving project success and producing relevant quotations. After this comes the follow up, mainly in the form of customer visits, to achieve a sale.
Q: How do you want to be remembered?
A: I’d like to be remembered as somebody whose word could always be believed. Someone who was reliable and trustworthy.