When Zhong Jianwu graduated from college with a degree in forestry two decades ago, he did not know a thing about plastic molds or business. But today, he stands as the chief executive officer of Kenmold Co. Ltd., a US$3 million mold maker in east China's Hanghzou city.
Zhong flew overnight from Shanghai to the Plastics News China forum, held Nov. 14-15 in Rosemont. ``We are looking for partners in the States,'' he said.
Kenmold specializes in tooling, supplying French appliance maker FagorBrandt SA, as well as electronics/appliance companies including Sanyo, LG, Samsung and Panasonic.
Kenmold has six factories, and is seeking small and midsize companies with which to build long-term partnerships. Zhong said the company is interested in ``opening a window'' in the United States through a joint venture or representative office.
``We had a sales rep in the States for three years. We would like to take a more market-focused approach now,'' he said.
The privately held company employs 130 in its tooling division and 30 in the molding division, which molds and assembles conveyer parts. Both divisions export about 80 percent of their output. The company's Web site features a Western business style and is in English language only. Like many small suppliers in China, selling domestically almost mandates credit policies, which is ``detrimental to the health growth of a company of our size,'' Zhong said.
He said the company now offers product design, molding and assembly, in addition to tooling.
``It is difficult to convince people that we have these capabilities, as we are just starting up the product design service,'' Zhong said. ``But there is a first time for everyone.''
With luck, Kenmold even had a second chance with one U.S. mold buyer eight years ago. Under a loose contract, the first order failed to meet the specified standard. Although the project lost money, the buyer decided to give Kenmold one more try, which proved to be a success.
``They had a good eye on our willingness to learn and the ability to adapt quickly. We have maintained very good business relationships ever since,'' Zhong said.
A local U.S. partner potentially could help with the technology aspect, but access to the U.S. market also is important. Zhong said the company is seeing increasing competition from other molders and toolmakers in China.
``The price war has gone to a phase that some Chinese companies are willing to lose money in order to retain a Western buyer.'' And that's not necessarily good news for the buyer, to whom quality, quantity and on-time delivery also are important.
Zhong said FagorBrandt, based in Cedex, France, buys US$2.5 million worth of molds from China annually.
``They buy at the same time from at least two dozen suppliers, a handful of which are taking the majority share. In order to stand out, everyone strives to improve quality and service,'' Zhong said.
Zhong is studying part time in an MBA program at Fudan University in Shanghai. He said he is learning a lot in the program, with a focus on international business.