Like many American businesses fighting to keep their prices competitive, Vision Quest Lighting turned to China about six years ago. It now imports about a sixth of the two dozen to three dozen parts required to make its lighting fixtures from there. Recently, however, the Long Island company began to see China in a different light: as a sales target. The growing economy of the world’s most populous nation made it ripe for Vision Quest’s architectural lighting fixtures, many custom-made for hotel and restaurant chains like Hilton and KFC.
When one such client, a clothing retailer, ordered 1,500 lights for five stores, Vision Quest’s chief executive, Larry Lieberman, decided it made sense to start manufacturing lights in China. Other American clients, he reasoned, would no doubt begin placing similar orders as their chains sought to capitalize on the world’s fastest-growing consumer market. And with high-quality products from the West coveted in China, Mr. Lieberman also imagined his products on display in Chinese showrooms.
And yet, selling goods in China is not easy. Mr. Lieberman made the 1,500 lights only to see them gather dust in a warehouse in Guangzhou for more than four weeks because he had not yet established a local enterprise approved to process sales.
“The customer couldn’t pick up the goods because we were still trying to set up something so they could buy them correctly and pay the right tax,” he said.
With help from an experienced consultant, Mr. Lieberman finessed the impasse by selling through an established local company, and he remains bullish on cracking the Chinese market — as do many other small-business owners. After all, China, according to a 2012 McKinsey & Company report, From Mass to Mainstream, will be the world’s largest growth market for many years.