Does location matter?

Does location matter in the plastics industry?

Well, yes, location matters, but probably not as much as it used to.

The old saw about real estate, “location, location, and location,” might apply to buying and selling houses, but even there we think it’s not as true now as previously. The advent of wireless communications, notably cell phones and wireless computer networks, has made location moot for many purposes.

One can for most purposes go anywhere and communicate readily with anyone anywhere else. There are exceptions, for example in portable phone service. When my son, raised in Colorado, went to college in Indiana, the phone service we were using just didn’t work there. So we asked around to find out what the locals used, and switched to that service provider. Location mattered there. The coverage maps of these phone companies look like modern art made by throwing paint against a canvas. They do show gaps in service.

But what about shipping stuff? There are many options for sending documents unsuited for e-mail or fax, for whatever reason: FedEx, UPS, other shipping services, and yes–even the US Postal Service, derisively and perhaps unfairly known as “snail mail.” Machinery, equipment, and service parts can move around quickly by car and the scheduled airlines, or even charter airplane flights if it comes to that.

Some business niches remain location-critical. It’s hard to imagine that it will ever be profitable to ship high quantities of new, empty, 2-liter PET bottles very far before filling. But while the volumes in that business are so huge as to be mind boggling, it is still a niche business, and one of a few where location is truly critical.

Certainly some decisions about delivery are location-driven.  One is unlikely to have plastics material delivered by railcar from a company 20 miles away. No matter what the volume, it will probably come via truck. It must rarely be worthwhile to load and unload a railcar of marterial delivered over short distances.

But here’s a context in which treatment of location really baffles me: advertising. Why do some companies seem to make it a puzzle to figure out where they are? I’m willing to believe that the reasons are rational, but sometimes I wonder. Why would an advertiser pay big bucks to advertise, then go so far as to list no city, state, or zip code, and use a toll free 800 number for both telephone and fax contact?

Some companies extend this mystery even onto their web sites. On one end of the spectrum are the sites that list many locations worldwide, but identify no headquarters. On the other end are the sites that identify no geographical location whatsoever. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough.

Why would location be a negative influence in today’s business environment? Maybe the premise for de-emphasizing or outright hiding geographical location data is that this pushes additional contact from a prospective customer to the advertiser. The theory, perhaps, is that a prospective customer has to contact the advertiser to figure out where they are, and this opens an opportunity for a sale. Some companies throw out a small bone in their advertising in the form of retaining their local area code in their fax number. The area code is traceable to a state and area, at least, sometimes a city, or area within a big city.

A determined researcher will probably figure out where a company is based, anyway. A separate internet directory will probably yield a listing. I can assure you of this: The publisher knows where to send the bill for the advertising.

In the end, do prospective customers write off a supplier of materials, machinery or equipment because of that supplier’s headquarters’ location? Perhaps someone in today’s business environment would boycott some international sources, but would a customer refuse to do business with a company because in was headquartered in Poughkeepsie instead of Dubuque?

In this day and age, that is a little hard to imagine, but I suppose it is possible. What are some real-world examples of a time that one company refuses to do business with another primarily because of the supplier’s location? You tell me. I would love to hear from you at tekrite@gmail.com

.—Merle R. Snyder

 

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