When British businessman Mark Bromley tried exporting his United Kingdom-manufactured hardware products in Asia, no one seemed to take him seriously.
So he sold the business, which made high-security locking systems near Birmingham, England, and launched a brand-new low-cost plastics molding enterprise based in China.
A year later, Bromley's fledgling Chinese plastics group, Avantis International, has mold-making plants in Shenzhen, China, and in Malaysia; a new £1.7 million ($3.3 million) 18-press injection molding plant in Sungai Petani, Malaysia; a British design facility; and sales offices in mainland China, Hong Kong and Portugal.
Now Bromley has his sights set firmly on entering the major North American markets, but he recognizes Avantis will need to attract a U.S. partner if it is to build up sales in that region.
International business has certainly taken off for Avantis. It is molding a variety of components in a range of polymers, mainly for the construction industry in Britain, Germany and the Middle East. The firm has been shipping product for the past three months, Bromley said in a telephone interview from Avanco Design (UK) Ltd., the company's Cannock, England-based design and sales offshoot.
In northern Malaysia, the company's new subsidiary, Ovantis Hightech (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, is operating Sumitomo, Arburg and Chinese-built Haitian injection machines at its 27,500-square-foot facility. It has presses with clamping forces between 25-600 metric tons, processing resins that include ABS, PVC, high density polyethylene and acetal.
The Sungai Petani plant, which opened in November and employs 180, has eight more presses coming in February.
``We have got two very large contracts ... which, all being well, will be closed by the end of March next year. Then we need to increase our machine capacity to 26 presses to handle that,'' Bromley said. Avantis will expand its Malaysian plant to around 46,000 square feet with the addition of an extra building in May.
The company's Shenzhen toolmaking unit employs 80 in its 30,000-square-foot plant. Avantis employs a total of 300.
Why did Avantis choose to launch its molding and assembly operation in Malaysia rather than in China? ``Because it is more cost competitive in Malaysia and the standard of senior management there is higher. In China, labor, property and energy costs are going up,'' Bromley said. He stressed that it was the whole Malaysian package, including ``significant tax incentives,'' that led to the company's final choice.
Already, Avantis is attracting new business from farther afield.
``We are three months away from concluding our first deal with a North American company worth between $1.5 million and $1.8 million,'' Bromley said. Avantis will supply PVC products for the building sector in what is a ``one-off'' case.
Avantis wants to ``put down roots'' in the United States with design and technical support facilities, according to Bromley, who intends to do the rounds of the trade shows to get to know people in the business.
Bromley's Asian initiative chose to go into precision plastic component molding after hardware because of molding's ``wider level of diversification,'' he said.
His move to China owes much to his experience of Chinese culture, local outsourcing and the ways of Chinese business gained when he lived in the local community in Shenzhen while running the hardware business.
``What makes Avantis different is our complete control over our own Asia-based manufacturing facilities - with the associated benefits of lower manufacturing costs - while at all times retaining overall management and quality control from the United Kingdom,'' he said.