Driving Success:

The Important Role of Differentiation and Value Creation

by Peter DelGado, Curbell Plastics, Inc.
IAPD President

s I write my first article of 2024 for Performance Plastics magazine, I can’t help but reflect on what seem to be the biggest challenges facing our industry as a whole, and especially the distribution channel.

During the convention in October, we updated attendees on the work of the IAPD Board Strategy Task Force. We surveyed a number of IAPD member company leaders, along with past and present board members, to ask what their greatest challenges are that IAPD could help with.

The three most common things we heard were:

  • Workforce Development – Attracting and retaining people, especially the next generation
  • Sustainability – Understanding this complex challenge, including ESG
  • Government Relations and Plastics Messaging – Educating policymakers and the public on the benefits of performance plastics.

Once we reviewed the feedback, the task force updated the priorities within our Three Pillar Strategy:

  • Grow and Advocate – Grow and advocate for the performance plastics industry.
  • Knowledge and Capability – Improve the knowledge, performance and capability of IAPD members.
  • Distribution Channel – Make the distribution channel the path of choice.

The keys to all of this are differentiation and adding value.

headshot of Peter DelGado

Workforce Development

To attract and retain good employees we need to differentiate our industry and career opportunities from everything else out there. The previous IAPD Workforce Development Task Force produced a series of three videos that highlight the benefits of performance plastics and careers in both professional positions and skilled trades. We can use these to differentiate ourselves from other industries.

We will be reforming this task force to include some new people, to help us decide the next steps in how IAPD can support our member companies in attracting, recruiting and retaining talent.


Highlighting sustainability will be key to setting our industry apart and articulating value. The Recycling Task Force created and tools to help us understand material recycling and find sources for recycling services. This was great work, but sustainability is so much more than that.

We are in the process of creating a Sustainability Task Force to help us better understand sustainability and determine what IAPD and our members should focus on.

Government Relations and Plastics Messaging

Differentiating ourselves with policymakers and improving the public perception of performance plastics is also critical to our collective success.

We need to highlight how our products and solutions add value for the lives of so many and power modern society.

We have an updated strategy and new legislative agenda with our new government relations firm, OGR (formerly Ogilvy Government Relations), on how to approach policymakers in Washington D.C. We will also look at this from a marketing perspective as to how we can help change public perception.

These are important initiatives that IAPD is focused on, but we can’t forget about one the biggest threats facing our industry – other distribution channels.

We often think of Amazon as a threat to our channel, which they are, but as online marketplaces become more common and easier to establish, we will see more of our products sold online by companies who are not IAPD members.

I recently attended the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW) Executive Summit in Washington D.C., and it allowed me to network with other distributors, of all sizes, and from many different industries. The largest distributors in attendance have business that are mostly box-in/box-out, with a high percentage of online sales. Many of them are looking to expand their product offerings, since it is easy to add new products once the machine is built.

closeup of drill drilling into plastic

How do we defend against this threat? By differentiation and adding value.

One way many of our distributor members differentiate is by fabrication. Whether it’s by fabricating in-house or by subcontracting with a fabrication partner, this is one of the widely used differentiators.

If you’re reading this you are probably viewing our Fabrication-focused issue of IAPD’s magazine. There are many great ideas offered, including tips, machinery, resources, and more.

Supplying finished parts from our materials is a great way for us to differentiate ourselves from external threats. Many smaller distributors use fabrication to build a niche, both within and outside of our industry. It’s a great way to compete against the big companies that focus mostly on buy/sell and pricing.

“Supplying finished parts from our materials is a great way for us to differentiate ourselves from external threats. Many smaller distributors use fabrication to build a niche, both within and outside of our industry.”

But fabrication is not the only way to differentiate. Think about other ways you add value for customers that the large online distributors cannot. Some examples are stocking programs, material specification, technical support, special packaging, etc. We have members that are “master distributors” for specific lines or have carved a niche as the experts within a market segment. Many of our manufacturer members separate themselves out by coming up with new products, or even rethinking how they service their distributors. The most important thing to consider when deciding your focus or strategy is to understand what your customer needs and values most.

There are many ways we can defend against external threats to our channel, whether that is attracting and retaining employees, finding ways to be more sustainable, convincing the public and policymakers that performance plastics are a good thing, or differentiating and adding value in many other ways.

Your IAPD leadership is working to help our members with these challenges. We would value and appreciate your thoughts, ideas and participation as we move forward.

IAPD Strategic Plan

Mission Statement:
Expand the market for performance plastics through collaboration, education and a commitment to sustainability; promote distribution as the way to market.
IAPD Strategic Plan diagram
Grow & Advocate IAPD Strategic Plan graphic
Knowledge & Capability IAPD Strategic Plan graphic
Distribution Channel IAPD Strategic Plan graphic