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What John and James Fiocchi have learned from their time in China is that once you let go of Western expectations for standard operating procedures, the country holds the possibility of procuring almost anything you want, as quickly as you’d like it, without many of the hurdles you’d experience in the West.

Tony Deligio

January 12, 2011

7 Min Read
Feng Ping, Fiocchis blend East and West with great success—Part 2

What John and James Fiocchi have learned from their time in China is that once you let go of Western expectations for standard operating procedures, the country holds the possibility of procuring almost anything you want, as quickly as you’d like it, without many of the hurdles you’d experience in the West.

Editor’s note: Over three days last June, IMM’s Tony Deligio was given unfettered access to John and James Fiocchi’s wholly owned Chinese molding and moldmaking shop in Feng Gang, China, including its workers, the plant, and the brothers’ business plan. In the first segment, the brothers laid out how they had come to set up a wholly owned business in China and, in a first-hand display of the depth of their local knowledge, took Tony on a successful hunt for fireworks that rival the ordinance normally locked away in artillery depots. They then used them to put on a spectacular show for employees and their families.


With smoke from the first fireworks of the night still clearing, Feng Ping’s staff, distinguished by shirt colors denoting their departments, gather in front of the multiple flags representing the various locations of the company’s offices.


This tool designed and built by Feng Ping, and featuring multiple core pulls, represents the type of projects the company targets, a market segment that many other China-based shops don’t go after.


At the center of each cafeteria table, a burner allows hot-pot cooking, where various meats and produce are plunged into hot oil or water.

How quickly can equipment be found? Beyond pyrotechnics and in matters related to manufacturing, James Fiocchi recalls taking delivery of an injection molding machine at 11 p.m. when he and John were first setting up their business, with the press up and running within hours. The trick to a country where you can find almost anything, however, is knowing where to look and whom to ask.

Manufacturing for sale
The west has become so disconnected from manufacturing that TV shows like “How It’s Made” draw viewers with the novelty of fabricating everyday items. In Feng Gang, manufacturing is all around. A drive down the city’s main drag takes you past a store filled with injection molding machines for purchase sitting next to one selling machining centers. Other store fronts sell manufacturing itself, machining metal or molding plastics on walk-up requests. In front of one resale shop, overflow machinery spills out of the doors and fills the lot. “Someone must have gone out of business,” John says.

The day before, a visiting Feng Ping customer got a taste of how quickly things can be made in Feng Gang. Pat Jacobs, manufacturing engineering manager for custom molder Vision Plastics (Delavan, WI), is staying at the plant as it sets up an assembly line for an automotive tank that will be molded, assembled, and tested by Feng Ping. Jacobs had designed a stand-alone testing unit to check the tanks for leaks postwelding, and in one day, he and James were able to source angle iron for a stand; have it welded and painted; and find a shop in town that sold nothing but extruded sheet, buying a plank onto which he would attach testing fixtures. The entire testing apparatus could have been completed in one day, but Jacobs was forced to wait for one thing: getting paint to dry in the summer humidity of a subtropical climate.

Fundamental to the nimbleness of the country’s supply chain are its workers, a continuing wave arriving along the country’s coast, and in particular around Shenzhen, seeking jobs and a break from their agricultural past. By some estimates, more than 100 million Chinese have immigrated eastward within China, with an additional 243 million forecast to move by 2025.

New city, new opportunity
Back at the plant, the day shift’s workday is coming to a close, and the Fiocchis have told their employees to gather after dinner for some fireworks. Throughout Feng Gang, groups of young Chinese are seen walking through the streets, identified by their respective company uniforms, as shifts leave or come to work.

At Feng Ping, the button-up uniform shirts feature the company logo on the right breast, with “Feng Ping 2010: Year of the Tiger” on the back, and British, German, Chinese, and U.S. flags down the arm for the company’s respective sites, including sales operations in America, England, and Germany. Depending on what department they work in, the color of the shirt changes, with the khaki hue of the moldmaking group prevalent.

Many of the plant’s 185 staff have come a great distance to work at Feng Ping, part of that mass migration that has carried millions of Chinese to South China and better jobs in manufacturing. Like immigrants that arrived in America a century ago, they’ve often traveled thousands of miles to a land with new food, customs, and even language. Some struggle to understand the local language vs. their provincial dialect.

About 115 of the workers live in dorms across the parking lot from the plant, with four stories of rooms above a small gym and cafeteria on the main floor. Starting at 8 a.m., just as the night shift gets off, the day shift begins after eating a bowl of noodles in the cafeteria. The cafeteria has a full-time staff of six chefs that journey into Feng Gang and its large open-air market every morning to stock the kitchen with fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables for the day.

Two rows of large, circular tables run the length of the cafeteria, with an oversized flat-screen TV mounted to one wall and the exposed kitchen at the opposite end. The center of each table features a lazy Susan, with a burner mounted below for hot-pot cooking, a regional specialty.

A loyal staff
Compared to many local businesses, Feng Ping’s staff is better paid, more stable, and older. The average worker in the region is 20 years old, but at Feng Ping, the employees’ average age is 32. At every Chinese New Year, Feng Ping pays the travel costs to send its employees home to their families, and while at other facilities, turnover following the holiday can range as high as 40%, at Feng Ping the company lost only one worker last year. For many of the employees, family is close at hand, with multiple sets of siblings employed at the company, as well as parents and children working side by side.

For Amie (23), the personal assistant to James Fiocchi and translation buffer for Western customers and Mandarin-speaking engineering staff, family is a little farther away. A recent hire, Amie (whose Chinese name is Qu Guang Liang) comes to the company after one year at an electronics company based in Hong Kong. She’s originally from Guangxi province, about 400 miles and a 15-hour bus trip from Feng Gang.

Amie, who took her American name from the 1972 Pure Prairie League hit song, majored in Business English at Guangxi University. Including regional dialects, which can be as different as French from Spanish, she speaks four languages, with her study of English starting in middle school. She grew up in a farming community, and still sends money home to her parents and four siblings. Meeting John at a job fair in Shenzhen, she says that she’s “very lucky” to work at Feng Ping. She, like many of her classmates, came to Shenzhen because of higher salaries and a greater number of companies from which to choose.
Fireworks and feng shui

As dinner comes to a close, the plant’s workers gather in the commons area between the factory and the dorms, watching John and James unfurl the first pyrotechnics of the evening. Coiled into a round of fireworks the size of a wagon wheel, the individual red firecrackers are daisy-chained together and stretch over 50 ft with one end pointed toward the plant’s entrance, a nod to the ancient Chinese system of aesthetics, feng shui.

The workers immediately recognize the fireworks and cover their ears. Tradition holds that loud noise of fireworks drives away evil spirits, and as the fuse is lit initiating 5 minutes of smoke and ear-splitting explosions, I understand why. —Tony Deligio

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