A New Yorker’s Business in China

By John Christopher Fine
Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 17, 2012 Last Updated: March 19, 2013
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His roots trace back to the Cherokee nation of North Carolina where he was born and reared. He speaks fluent Mandarin and has been successfully doing business in China for many years. That does not mean he’s abandoned his roots or his frank, tell-it-like-it-is American personality.

His passion for soccer got him on the Olympic Development Team as a goalkeeper in his native North Carolina.

“I never played in the Olympics but I got to that level,” the 34-year-old entrepreneur said. He is at home in New York City where he lives with his wife, young daughter, and infant son in a garden apartment. “My office is a few blocks away. I’m opening a showroom nearby so everything is close,” Jake said.

I stand behind the product, not the factory in China. … I have lawyers in China. -Jake Phipps, Buy China Direct

His wife was rocking their infant in a harness strapped to the front of her chest, and their daughter was happily talking with friends nearby. Jake has a relaxed, easy-going manner, likely the result of his southern upbringing. A couple of minutes in his company and it seems he has been a friend for ages.

“I’ve had an office and apartment in China for ten years. My Mandarin is very good although I am illiterate, I cannot read or write it. China is a second home for me. We moved over there and taught ourselves the import-export business,” he said, reaching out for his wife’s hand.

The Furnishings Business

“I went there because of her family. They own Bowery Lighting. We started interior decorating for designers. Through us they can buy directly from producers. I have my own architects, engineers, and quality control people in Guangzhou, China. When the economy crashed I came back to the U.S. Also my wife got pregnant. I never over extended myself. So I made it through it.”

Jake is so candid that not only are you on an immediate first name business with him but once he decides that he likes a person, that friendship turns to trust. He is justly proud of his successes in business. “From China I can sell to the world. That’s why I moved there. My company name is BCD, Buy China Direct. I organize all of it. The client may have an interior designer but they may not want to pay the price. Buying direct can save them 45% and I deliver right to the job site anywhere in the world.”

BCD’s forte is complete units for developments, hotels and institutions. They supply completed bathrooms, kitchens, cabinetry, interiors, bedroom suites, lighting, flooring, marble, tiles, and furniture. The client list includes the first LEED certified project in North Carolina for Celadon. In New York, a major building construction project on Lefferts Avenue in Brooklyn used BCD to supply all the tiles, kitchens, countertops, faucets, lighting fixtures, showers, and tubs.

For Lafayette Estates in the Bronx, BCD supplied kitchens, bathrooms, mirrors, lighting fixtures, and accessories. For the Meadow Wood Gateway in Brooklyn, BCD did the same and even supplied flooring. These are no small projects since it consists of supplying major furnishings for from 28 to 705 units. BCD’s short list of completed projects is single-spaced and runs two pages.

When asked how he gets business, he responded, “Mostly by world of mouth. People have more confidence dealing with me because I understand western quality. I stand behind the product, not the factory in China. … I have lawyers in China. Laws there are very complex. My customers are interested in what kind of tile, what kind of marble. They do not want the complications inherent working overseas. I make sure I give them a good product. They consider me someone they can buy from and depend on.”

Business Complexities

Phipps then hit on a subject that has been the downfall of many that have tried to do business in China without experience or the network. “If my developers only knew. I call it the University of China,” Jake said, describing the years it took him to understand the culture and business relationships necessary to be successful.

“People generally think they can go on the Internet and buy items in China and get what they order. That is far from the case,” he said. “It is very difficult to trust the Chinese. It is very difficult to trust overseas factories. I contract them. They don’t like to sign but I require the product be checked from beginning to middle to end. Before it leaves the factory I make sure everything is perfect, that it is delivered on time and quality correct.”

Jake’s overall experience in China is not unlike that of other businesses that have gone overseas for suppliers. It was true in Japan, Philippines, Thailand, India, everywhere cheap labor has made it feasible to buy offshore despite additional costs of customs duties, shipping and delivery. If a developer does not receive a quality product on the job site once delivered from giant container ships, there is usually no recourse. To try and pursue justice in a complex overseas court system then to provide necessary evidence in a far away place is often more expensive than just taking the beating and finding another supplier. BCD has obviated that concern and is still able to deliver factory direct at substantial savings.

Obtaining trustworthy people in societies where bribery is a fashionable art is also difficult. “I have people that have been working with me seven years. I have electrical engineers, woodworking and shop engineers. It took me the first three years to find loyalty. The country is a kickback country. … It is hard to find trustworthy people. Hard to find their trust. At the beginning of my business in China my employees would take bribes from the factory and ship bad quality,” Jake said.

Jake pointed out something often overlooked: “Domestic consumption is 80% in China. In our economy the first businesses to leave are shoes, then the textile industry, then everything else follows.” That is exit strategy of businesses seeking less expensive production.

BCD also brings raw products into China to be finished and put into furnishings. Marble from Turkey and Brazil is one example. “Traverstine marble from Turkey. There is more marble in Turkey than in any other country. I have 140 colors of marble from Turkey in my showroom. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on Earth, it can be used in green LEED buildings for walls and floors. I recommend a lot of sustainable products but not bamboo flooring. Builders rip out bamboo flooring in the first year. It’s too soft, high heels dig into it…” His enthusiasm and knowledge of the construction trades enables him to deliver the right product for the right project.

Jake reflected a moment on his own philosophy of doing business. “Our business is family driven. I like to do business with people that are family driven. They are good people to do business with.”

Dr. John Christopher Fine is the author of 25 books. He is a columnist for a major newspaper chain, and a contributor to The Epoch Times and major magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe.

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