SUZHOU, CHINA — In fast-moving China, a small American injection molding company is showing that it's possible to succeed by following a slow and measured path to growth.
From its modest startup in 2006 with three employees, two machines and one key customer, Poly-Cast Plastics (Suzhou) Co. Ltd. has grown steadily, all the while resisting the temptation to expand too fast. General manager Jeff Leedom described the company's growth strategy as a “crawl before you walk before you run” approach.
And it looks like it's been paying off. Today the company runs an 11 to 13 machine operation from a 21,500 square feet facility with 40-plus employees. What began as an offshoot from Poly-Cast's Portland, Ore., operations has since morphed into a jointly owned operation by Poly-Cast and two other American family-run injection molding businesses, Viking Plastics Inc. and Falcon Plastics, who each own a third of the shares. The company records under $10 million in sales annually.
Last year the company enjoyed record sales and is expecting a repeat this year. And the industry stateside is beginning to take notice. Just last month the company was honored for Enterprise Technology Leadership by Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. The award honors “manufacturing teams and individual manufacturing leaders that are shaping the future of global manufacturing,” said Jeff Moad, Frost & Sullivan's research director. He wrote in an email that “The ML Awards judges were very impressed that Poly-Cast was able to take control of its financial and manufacturing execution systems, allowing it to establish an advanced, real-time business review process and quickly identify risks and opportunities. This contributed to rising profits and market share gains in 2013.” The company also is a contender for a Manufacturer of the Year award, which will be decided at the annual Manufacturing Leadership Summit and Gala June 4-5 in Palm Beach, Fla.
Early on, the company took a risk that has shaped its trajectory over the 8 years it has been operating in Suzhou. While many companies looking to enter the China market choose to partner with a local company in a joint venture, the Leedom family instead sent its oldest son Jeff to set up and manage the facility. It proved to be an enormous challenge and a steep learning curve for him, as well as an unique opportunity to prove himself. He says that there are no regrets about those early choices.
“I think it has worked out very well for us,” Leedom said in an interview with Plastics News at his Suzhou facility. “There are so many unknowns going into something with an unknown partner,” he said. “You take the burden, you take the risk on your own as a fully-owned, but it was something we were willing to do on our own.”
Choosing to go it alone meant Leedom had to learn everything about business in China. “My biggest learning curve was my first four years on the ground,” he said. From setting up the business, to importing equipment to hiring people, he found that just about everything was different than what he was used to in the United States. Two years in came the financial crisis of 2008, which added another challenge for Leedom.
But 2008 also brought the beginning of the partnership with Viking Plastics. Leedom said the cooperation among Poly-Cast, Viking and Falcon has gone amazingly well.