Living, learning, and staying local
Marplex is a company with a lot to offer. They are the leading supplier of quality plastics in Australasia, with one of the broadest and most versatile product ranges of any plastics company in the world. They also offer one of the largest sales and marketing teams of their kind, the best customer service, and – importantly – some exceedingly strong technical support. “That is not something that a lot of our competitors have,” says Rohan Walsh, General Manager at Marplex. “That is because they don’t have the manufacturing or product development base here in Australia that we have. We certainly pride ourselves on that fact.”
As a company, Marplex goes back over 40 years in the plastics industry. “We started as an ABS polymerisation company,” Walsh explains. Due to an increasingly competitive landscape, however, that original factory was closed in the early ‘90s. Since then, Marplex has bounced around in its ownership over the years. “Principally the business is the same, although obviously it has changed over time in terms of product, product mix and product range,” says Walsh. “The emphasis has been on moving away from being a single polymer company to having what is the most diverse polymer ranges on offer in the Australian market.”
Originally, Marplex was solely a manufacturer. Today, the company comprises a blend of product that is locally developed and manufactured, product that is manufactured under license, and products that are traded. This evolution occurred gradually as Marplex continually changed owners until late 2004, when Orica purchased them. The motivation for this change was one of necessity: they needed to expand to survive in the market, and also to meet the needs of the very diverse local industry. “Marplex, as it exists today, is really a combination of a number of different companies either acquired by Orica or acquired by Marplex over time,” says Walsh.
Since being acquired by Orica in 2004, Marplex has not only broadened its product line, they have also expanded their customer base and market presence. Additionally, whereas once they only had one manufacturing site in Melbourne, they now have two. “We’re able to be more responsive to the demands of the marketplace because we don’t have capacity restraints,” says Walsh. “We’ve also got enormous flexibility in what we can produce in terms of quantity and type of polymer.” Walsh himself has been involved with Marplex since 1996. In those fifteen years, he has served in mostly commercial roles, first as an Account Manager, then a Sales Manager, then as Sales and Marketing Manager. Finally, in July of this year, he took on the role of General Manager.
Again, the diversity of products Marplex has at its disposal presents a competitive advantage. “We’re not a single polymer company; we’re able to locally manufacture numerous different polymers. We’re not bound by single polymer types and forms within those,” Walsh explains. “We offer a large range, so the fact that we have such an offering is definitely a point of differentiation.” Within this range, Marplex is able to accommodate a large range of customer demands as well. “If the customer is after a straightforward, simple, off-the-shelf product, then we can offer that. If they’re after a customised product – be it a colour or particular physical property – to suit their application, end use, or specification, then we can formulate and manufacture a product here, locally, in order to achieve those aims.”
At Marplex, they operate their business in accordance with the principles of safety, health, and the environment. These values are instilled within the culture of the business from the ground up, with safety being the first and most important priority. As far as the environment goes, Walsh says their commitment boils down to efficiency. “It’s about watching and measuring what we do in terms of things like energy consumption, water consumption and waste generation,” he says. “We take every measure possible to ensure we optimise our processes from a scheduling point of view, from a sequencing point of view, and from when we run particular products and machines. These are all cost driving measures but they are also sustainability measures.” Additionally, they make sure to recycle as much water as they possibly can, and waste from both their production and packing processes is reused wherever possible.
Another area of their business that Marplex prides themselves on is their commitment to strong customer representation. Their success in this arena is measured by their yearly retention of customers, as well as the results of an ongoing customer satisfaction survey their parent company conducts. The intent of that survey is to find out if their customers would promote or recommend Marplex to others. “It’s fairly simple, but quite effective,” Walsh says. “We’re always interested to hear the voice of the customer.” These routine audits have resulted in some valuable lessons that Marplex has been able to utilise and implement in their customer service. “The key one is around communication with our customers, which is something we have improved on,” says Walsh. When Orica took the company on, Marplex’s attentions were initially focused internally due to the ownership change, rather than externally on their customers. Since becoming a stable company in the Orica portfolio, Marplex have managed to turn that attitude, and their attentions, right around. They have now made it a policy to get to know their customers’ businesses and values in order to best provide them with the right solutions. “That’s something that we’ve developed over time,” Walsh says.
As far as the future is concerned, Marplex will continue to diversify their product range while also striving to introduce new products. “In a broad sense, what we’re doing is targeting more robust and long term markets rather than just relying on organic growth, which in the current climate there’s not a lot of,” says Walsh. This means that while they will continue to operate in the markets they are already in, they will also be looking in new fields for opportunities in product development and product expansion. The impediments Marplex faces are the same ones that afflict everyone else in the manufacturing industry — factors such as the unfavourable exchange rate and competition from overseas. This is how Marplex are fighting back – by closely managing their cost base and diversifying their products, markets, and applications. To a certain degree, they are also able to earn work on the back of their high quality – especially in sophisticated markets, where quality, reliability and consistency are all especially important.
Five to 10 years down the road, Walsh sees Marplex staying put and growing stronger. “We certainly see ourselves as still being an important entity and player in the Australian plastics industry,” Walsh says. “There’s no doubt about it, we don’t plan on going anywhere. For us, it’s really about cementing our position in the marketplace, and increasing our presence and our importance as a local manufacturer.” Maintaining that locality is particularly important to Marplex. “We see ourselves having an important part to play in the plastics industry, as well as the broader manufacturing industry in Australia, so we pride ourselves on that,” he says. “We see ourselves as an important cog in the wheel. We value-add, and we support the industry by employing people into it. We’re perpetuating the value in the industry, and sustaining that industry knowledge – and we’re doing it in the most cost effective way that we can in order to remain competitive, and provide the competitive edge and level of service to our customer base.”