Political upheavals in the Eastern Bloc countries of Europe have meant a tough time for businesses suddenly forced into private enterprise. In a country such as Latvia, where businesses were owned by and depended on the government to buy its products, sales and marketing strategies are alien terms.
For one mold-making firm however, survival has come in the form of U.S. relatives.
Nodan Schneider of New-task Global Technologies Inc. in Holindel, N.J., is the son of immigrant parents from Latvia. He and partner William Herrmann recently purchased from the government a mold shop in Riga, Latvia, where his uncle, Guntis Lipinsch, and 25 other mold makers work. The purchase is the culmination of Schneider's father's dream.
Lipinsch served as the vice president of engineering for the state-owned firm, and now is a partner with Schneider and Herrmann in NGT.
Schneider's father, Pina, came to the United States in 1974 and opened a machine shop called Micron Tool. After a few years, he converted it to a mold shop, and eventually the firm, renamed Micro-Tel, went into molding.
When Micro-Tel was bought out in 1992, Pina Schneider, an engineer by education, became a consultant. It was also that same year that Schneider found out he had cancer, his son said.
Over the next few years, Pina Schneider did some research in buying offshore molds and found the opportunity to purchase the mold shop in Latvia, where his brother-in-law worked. He had plans to invest $1.5 million to modernize the firm; its equipment was at least two decades behind U.S. mold shops.
But, it was not to be. On June 10, Pina Schneider died, leaving his son to continue with the dream.
``We'll grow this shop,'' said Schneider. ``Not as fast as my father had planned, but we'll grow it.''
Schneider and Herrmann, who serves as vice president of marketing and sales for NGT, plan to transfer technology in steady increments. Currently, the Latvian shop has two computer-aided design stations. Schneider eventually wants to have the capability to transfer files via computer, like many U.S. companies do with Asian mold makers.
As a manufacturer's representative for mold shops in the United States and Portugal, Schneider said he is just beginning to prove Latvia's capabilities in building molds.
Schneider said the molds are built using machinery that requires much hands-on manufacturing, resulting in very accurate tooling. Two skilled engineers supervise mold production.
``Their workmanship is amazing, given what they have to work with,'' said Schneider, who made seven trips to Riga in 1996. ``And, prices for molds are very cheap, much less than [in] Portugal.''
He took inventory of the shop's equipment and plans to replace many of the older machines with newer, computerized machinery from Switzerland or Germany.
``They can survive [with the machinery now in use], but they need a technology boost to move them into a world-class category,'' Schneider said.