212 Hazel St
Lancaster, PA 17603
Rendering around red tape
By John F. Haser III, March 8, 2002
Sang Lau knows how important family is. He left school in seventh grade to help feed his family. He even left his Vietnam homeland in 1987 to help his daughters, Mya and Victoria, get a good education.
He also knows how difficult it can be to run a business — on either side of the globe.
While in Vietnam, Lau owned a company in Ho Chi Minh City that produced plastic bags and the machinery to make them. "We were pretty successful," Lau's daughter Mya says of her family's life in Vietnam. "My dad operated the machinery, and my mother worked in the office."
In spite of the family's success, the Laus decided to sell everything and move to the United States. Sang Lau knew the importance of education in society and thought it was best his daughters be educated here. They settled in Lancaster, where he began work as a carpenter and his wife, Mylinh, worked as a dietitian.
In 1999, Lau decided to mortgage his house and open a business producing plastic grocery bags. Mya Lau was attending Penn State University's York campus at the time but decided to leave to assist her father.
"I didn't know what direction I was heading in, so when my dad decided to open a business, I thought I would help run it," she said. "I really admire him for what he's done."
Lau knew doing business in Vietnam meant bribing officials and dealing with the inefficiencies of a communist system. What he didn't realize was doing business in the United States means a whole lot of red tape.
The family startup had difficulty finding space, procuring necessary insurance policies and passing the inspections that go with a new industrial operation. These difficulties were compounded by language barriers, according to Mya Lau. "I am the only English speaker in the family," she said. "You don't know how hard that was."
Christine Sable, a consultant who worked with the Laus during their startup, remembers the process. "Can you imagine how hard it was for them to try to negotiate a lease with Burle Industries?" she says. "I really admire them for their tenacity and the incredible amount of sacrifices they've made."
Lancaster Extrusion Co. has been operating in Lancaster's Burle Business Park for two years. Sang Lau operates the equipment, while Mya handles the administration and sales.
Victoria, who attends the University of Pittsburgh, and Mylinh help out part time.
Lau believes Lancaster Extrusion can provide a quality bag at a low price. The company sells direct, meaning that there is no mark-up from a distributor, she says. She also says the company's small size allows it to produce custom-printed bags in far smaller quantities, making it easier for smaller firms to afford them.
Jim Eshleman, president of John Herr's Market Inc., agrees. Eshleman's Millersville grocery store has been using Lancaster Extrusion's bags for almost two years. He says the company's quality, price and customer service are all reasons he does business with them. "Most people want you to buy 100,000 bags to have them printed," he says, noting that Lancaster Extrusion prints his logo on runs as low as 30,000.
"It's a very good bag," Eshleman says of the product. "I've never had complaints from customers, and they're easy for my clerks to use. Plus, they came in cheaper. I couldn't really lose."
Mya Lau admits, however, that not all customers were so quick to switch to the Lancaster company. "Trust is a big thing I deal with," Lau explains, noting that some companies are reluctant to switch to a young manufacturing firm. "They want to know you will stay in business."
Selling direct can have disadvantages, says Jeff Good, vice president of Amelia's Inc. of New Holland, which does business as Amelia's Grocery Outlets. Good currently uses bags produced by Bunzl Extrusion Co. Bunzl uses an Associated Wholesalers Inc. branch in York County to supply bags, containers, labels and other nonfood items to grocery stores. Good switched his business from Bunzl to Lancaster Extrusion in 2000. But he was forced to switch back to Bunzl because some of his outlets needed Bunzl's other products.
Otherwise, Good says, he was happy with Lancaster Extrusion. "They have a quality product with very high service and an attractive price," he says. But, Bunzl also lowered its price to beat Lancaster Extrusion's price, Good also says.
Lau says her company, which produces about 200,000 bags a week, grew by about 30 percent last year, but growth comes hard. One large reason, she notes, is she is the sole salesperson for the firm. "Other companies have 30 to 40 people in this territory," she says.
While growth has not been easy, Lau is confident of the company's future. "I'm learning as I go along," she says of her experience. She adds that she is "really, really blessed," both for being part of Lancaster Extrusion Co. and a member of her family.
Manufacturer of T-Shirt Bags
NEW PLASTIC-BAG FIRM FULFILLS 20-YEAR DREAM FOR ITS OWNER
Publication Date: February 26, 2000
LANCASTER EXTRUSION INC., a manufacturer of plastic bags, recently opened in the Burle Business Park on New Holland Avenue.For founder Sang Lau, the opening marked the culmination of an ambition that began more than 20 years ago in Vietnam, where he worked for a firm that made bags.Twelve years ago, Lau and his wife, My Linh Hoang, moved here to provide a better life for their daughters, Victoria and Mya Phuong. Lau took a job here with a company making children's toys.But the idea of starting his own bag-making business stuck with him. He re-mortgaged his home and got financial help from his relatives to launch his venture."He always had a vision," Lau's brother-in-law, Quyen Chung, said. "He's always dreamed of this."With his equipment, Lau can make about 3,500 plastic bags in an hour. The bags are available in four colors and in different sizes, depending on customer needs. The company also can recycle used plastic bags into new ones.The extrusion process involves melting resin and blowing air into it to produce the shape of a bag. The bags then are stamped with a design, cut apart and stacked.