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Mold maker finds niche in China

James Fiocchi, co-owner of Feng Ping Tooling & Plastic, in the tool shop of his Dongguan, China, factory (Plastics News photo by Steve Toloken)

American businessman James Fiocchi sits in the office of his mold-making factory in China and admits his professional life the last few years has been crazy.

In 2005, he and his brother John were running their Chicago-based plastics business when they began having major problems that started them on an unplanned mid-life journey that today finds the Fiocchis owning — and living part-time in — a factory in Dongguan.

Whether by plan or by luck, though, the two believe they’ve found a business niche, tapping into American injection molding companies that want to cut their tooling costs and source overseas.

As a result, their factory, Feng Ping Tooling & Plastic Mfg. Co. Ltd., has grown from 20 employees in 2007 to 200 now, and they say sales have grown from $1 million in 2009 to $5 million last year, with projections for substantial growth this year.

“We have a good business model,” said James, who is 49. “We export U.S.-quality molds at a very good price.”

The company plans to expand in the next six months and is looking at renting an additional 85,000 square feet of space next door to the 85,000-square-foot factory it occupied in late 2009.

Feng Ping’s business of building molds in China for export is not a new idea, of course. Foreign companies and traders have been doing it for years, with debates about China pricing and quality a constant in American manufacturing.

But the deep and swift dive the brothers have taken into becoming China factory owners is not a move they expected to be making in their 40s.

“If you would have said to me ‘Jim, where will you be in three years?’ when I was back in the enclosures business, if you told me I would be sitting in this room talking to you, I would have told you ‘You’re crazy, you’ve lost your mind,’ ” he told a visiting reporter.

Road to China

The brothers were not neophytes to China when they opened Feng Ping, which is a wholly foreign-owned enterprise.

They had been coming there for more than a decade to source molds and plastic parts for their Lake Bluff, Ill.-based enclosures business, which their father started more than 30 years ago.

But that business hit a near-fatal snag when it started having more and more serious problems with its China supply chain, beginning in about 2005.

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