Waterford Company Bridges China Gap

China's booming housing market has turned two gutter-supply companies half a world apart into commercial allies.

After four weeks in transit, $20,000 worth of gutter parts and a seamless gutter machine made its way from Yost Manufacturing and Supply Co. Inc. of Waterford to Imarinex Co., Ltd., of Shanghai.

Luck and timing unexpectedly linked Ni Rong, the Chinese senior partner at Imarinex, and George and Albert Yost, brothers who as president and vice president, respectively, own and operate the family-run Waterford firm.

For Yost Manufacturing, being the only gutter supplier at an international builders' trade show in Las Vegas this past January resulted in the company's first international business contacts. At about the same time, one of Ni Rong's associates found the Yost company Web site.

By the time Ni Rong and George Yost began negotiating, the Yosts had coincidentally built a new addition at their Hartford Road plant and added an automated machine that spits out gutter elbows at the rate of 1,000 an hour, half the

time it takes with the old equipment, George Yost said.

“There's a tremendous demand for rain spouts (in China)” said George Yost (or “rain carry systems,” as Ni Rong calls them.) “China is like the U.S. in the '50s when everybody was building townhouses and villas. And they need gutters. It's as simple as that.”

So far, the international connection is proving equally fortuitous for Ni Rong.

“We have many contacts in Europe, America and Asia for our global shipping business,” he said, answering questions by email, “but it is the very first time for us to make deal with an American company in building materials. I am sure we will do it on a regular basis.”

Founded in 1998, Imarinex is a private corporation that employs 18 people and sells marine and home building supply products to other companies in China's major cities. Ni Rong, who had worked for a large shipping firm, started the company so he could work independently.

The housing market exploded in China three years ago and is expected to continue for the next five years, said Ni Rong. Looking for an American supplier, Ni Rong sent his colleague, Zhigang Chen, to the U.S. to meet the Yosts. At the same time, the Waterford firm shipped product samples to their potential client.

Yost Manufacturing marketed its new gutter elbows, which link drain spouts, to the Chinese as rapidly and flawlessly produced parts available in classic cream, wicker, royal brown and nine other colors. The machine in the shop on Hartford Road produces a superior elbow by eliminating “burrs, specks and flakes,” George Yost said.

The Iron Man Gutter Machine that the Yosts sent to Ni Rong extrudes the gutter itself, but not the elbows.

Though the Americans and Ni Rong have never actually met, they developed confidence in one another during long cell phone conversations.

“I appreciated Yost for their trust and good credit,” said Ni Rong. “It is very important for businessmen to follow motto, ‘our word is our bond,' especially at start. Yost and me did it. I am very satisfied with their cooperation so far.”

The Yost clan was raised working out of two garages when their parents, the late Albert Yost and Catherine, now retired, started Yost Home Improvement Inc. in 1961.

Twenty-one years later, frustration with the poor quality of other suppliers' down spouts led George and Albert Yost to start Yost Manufacturing. They decided they couldn't tolerate parts that continually broke at the seams.

George Yost's bent for problem solving led to an evolving commitment to “fix problems other people can't fix,” the brothers said. For instance, the finishing on aluminum coils used in the early 1980s to make seamless house siding always seemed to be coming off, but the Yosts didn't know what to do about it.

One summer day, George Yost figured out what was wrong: the finish on the metal wasn't cured properly.

He called a supply company and ordered 5,000 pounds of coil. Refusing to tell the supplier his plan, he built a makeshift hothouse on blacktop in the family driveway and “literally baked the coils for a week.”

An inventor like his father, George Yost has two patents to his credit — one for a “mole hidden hanger attachment” used to invisibly hang gutters without leaking, and another for his “Hands Free & Ski,” a simple tool with vinyl straps that he developed to make toting skis easier.

As kids, the two boys not only sold “Creepy Crawler” rubber insects that they made from a kit, but, at George Yost's suggestion, put wire in the legs to shape them and then sold them for “twice as much,” they said.

“When he sleeps, his mind is still going,” says Albert Yost, who calls his brother “the brains” of the company.

Albert Yost trains workers and maintains the company's stock and machinery. His sister, Carolyn, does the selling and marketing.

As their join venture unfolds, both the Yosts and Ni Rong believe the potential for growth and international trade in their shared field is “phenomenal.”

“We welcome more American companies to enter China market,” Ni Rong said. “We are glad to be a bridge.”
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