Sunshine plans European scaffold expansion

11 August 2008

Wei Chen, founder and CEO of Memphis-based Sunshine Enterprise, Inc, an importer of Chinese scaffold

Wei Chen, founder and CEO of Memphis-based Sunshine Enterprise, Inc, an importer of Chinese scaffolding and hoists.

Sunshine Enterprise, Inc, the Memphis, US-based importer of Chinese-made scaffolding and hoists is to expand its product offering in North America and plans to sell equipment in Europe as well.

The company, founded in Memphis in 1998 by Chinese entrepreneur Wei Chen, claims to have built a 15-20% share of the US$300-400 million North American scaffolding market, and earlier this year entered the American hoist market by importing Chinese units from Baoda Engineering Machinery Co Ltd.

Sunshine's chief executive officer, Mr Chen, who is still only 37 years old and spoke no English when he arrived in Memphis in the late 90s to complete an MBA, told Access International the company aimed to sell in Europe many of the same products it now markets in North America, including scaffolding, hoists and swing stages (suspended access platforms). The latter are the latest additions to the product line up, with 10 Chinese made platforms being imported to the US in September for rental and sales.

"We are trying to focus on the developing countries", Mr Chen told AI, "We are not [focusing] in South East Asia or the Middle East, where [there is less concentration] on quality. We will focus on the US, western Europe, Australia and some fast-growing South American markets, using Chinese manufacturing as a way of [getting] a foothold."

Mr Chen said Sunshine would be visiting Europe later this year to investigate potential dealerships and alliances. Unlike in the US, where Sunshine sells products itself under its own brands, Mr Chen said the company would consider different types of arrangements, including manufacturing under other brands or alliances with European scaffold manufacturers.

Speaking to AI at the Scaffold Industry Association's annual convention in Denver, Colorado in July, Mr Chen said Sunshine had spent 10 years improving the quality and reputation of Chinese scaffolding in the US, with the perception in the early days that Chinese products were poor quality.

Now, having imported 30 Baoda rack and pinion hoists, Mr Chen said Sunshine was facing the same issues, and that for this reason the company had established a small hoist rental fleet - based in Atlanta, Georgia - to demonstrate the quality of the Baoda products; "It's the same as scaffolding 10 years ago. But the hoist industry is more sophisticated, so we need to demonstrate with our rental fleet the durability and longevity [of the machines]."

Mr Chen added that in the longer term the company aimed to introduce other Chinese made products in the West, possibly in concrete machinery and earthmoving equipment. "The key thing is that we will not bring in products until they are ready", said Mr Chen.

Sunshine, which now employs 400 employees in North America and China and has 500000 ft2 of manufacturing space in China, operates a number of companies in the US, including StepUp Scaffold, which imports and distributes scaffolding; StepUp Caster, a seller of scaffold casters; StepHigh Access, the Atlanta-based rental division; and SBU Hoists, which is the Baoda distributor for North America.

Read the full interview with Mr Chen in the October issue of Access International.

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