Chinese entrepreneur knows it pays to keep things simple

Chinese entrepreneur knows it pays to keep things simple

By MARSHA BROWN
Special to the Star-Telegram

"I didn't want to teach or research," entrepreneur Louie Lu said. "I wanted my own business." SPECIAL TO THE STAR-TELEGRAM/MARSHA BROWN

Understanding the cultural gulf between American and Chinese businesspeople, Lu knew the barriers to dealing with Chinese manufacturers and thought he could build a career by simplifying the process.

Lu took a job as a waiter at River Crest Country Club, rented a tiny apartment and launched his business from his living room.

He named his nascent company Yangtze, after the river that flows not far from his hometown.

"I contacted companies and asked them what they needed," Lu said. "It's rare that companies manufacture every component of a product. We identify our clients' needs. Then we work to meet their needs."

Lu's first order came when the Justin Boot Co. needed millions of tiny brass rings for women's lace-up boots. He got the order.

Another client is John Clardy, who devotes most nights and weekends to building his own business, Newaire Products, a parts supplier for the heating and air-conditioning industry, while he works weekdays as general manager of Frigette Truck Climate Systems.

"Most parts manufacturing started going overseas, mostly to China, a few years ago," Clardy said. "To be competitive, we had to get a lot of our parts from either China or Taiwan."

Clardy found himself depending on people he had never met who didn't speak his language in a country he knew little about.

"Louie is absolutely essential for my business," Clardy said. "I rely on him to make everything happen right in China. I've heard horror story after horror story from people who have been burned in deals with China. That's never happened to me, because I work through Louie."

Working with clients like Clardy is an area where Lu gets to use his knowledge of physics.

"We're talking about highly dimensioned parts," Clardy said, "anywhere from dozens to hundreds of dimensions. It's difficult to convey that to someone halfway around the world. You need only to make one mistake in importing from the Chinese market to put yourself out of business."

Normally, when trading overseas, customers pay up front, tying up a significant amount of cash.

"We stand behind our products, completely," said Lu, now 42. Rather than hurting his business, he said, the policy made it thrive.

"We give him a design and wait for the parts to be delivered. I don't even worry about it anymore," Clardy said. "Louie handles everything. He has a near-perfect record, if not perfect in that respect."

A common mistake is sending a prototype to a China-based manufacturer without a facilitator and expecting to get a perfect duplicate back. "It's not that simple," Clardy said. "Most of the time when dealing with a manufacturer in China, when there's a mistake, the customers will lose their money. It's not for the faint of heart to trade with China."

"Louie bridges the social and cultural barrier," said Roy Shockey, vice president of marketing for Summit Industries.

A lot of the parts imported by Summit are designed in-house. They range from pool tables to auto parts.

"I like having the confidence in the products he provides," Shockey said. "The value of having Louie is he has his own quality control. He makes sure the products are the quality we need."

A good import facilitator can make the difference between a nightmarish import business transaction and a successful, profitable one.

As Lu's reputation grew, so did his business. After six years he bought a house. He also moved his business out of his living room and into a home office.

Lu has all the trappings of success. He lives in a six-bedroom house in an upscale neighborhood. His neighbors are doctors, lawyers and a federal judge.

"Louie's part of what's good about dealing with China," Shockey said. "Louie makes it less painful because you always know with Louie you're getting the quality you need."

Marsha Brown is a Weatherford-based freelance writer.

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