If the deal that Jimmy Kaplanges is to sign today with the China National Chemical Construction Corp. works out the way he thinks it will, within five years his GP66 Chemical Corp. will be Baltimore's fourth largest manufacturer with 1,000 employees and $325 million in sales.
Not bad for a company started in a garage in 1966 that now has eight employees and $3 million in sales.
The firm's only product is GP66 Miracle Cleaner, which it sells to more than 200 American companies including Campbell Soup Co., Hewlett-Packard Co., Kellogg Co. and General Motors Corp., said Kaplanges, who has operated GP66 for 31 years.
The deal has been almost three years in the making, Kaplanges said. But he says he doesn't know how the Chinese found out about his company.
"It's a mystery; we can't figure it out," Kaplanges, 59, said. "Two-and-a-half years ago, the Chinese just walked through the door and wanted to know about the product, my customers and the market base, even though it appeared that they already knew all the answers."
Ching Shao, manager for the Chinese Ministry of Chemical Industry-USA, said the Chinese government had encouraged his agency to look for American products to import. He said they looked at many products, and thought GP66 was the best.
"We knew GP66 was good for cleaning, so we stopped by GP66 Chemical Corp. We didn't know until we stopped by that it was a small business," Shao said. "We thought retail market at first, but Jimmy said he hadn't had a good experience with retail and that we should start with industrial sales, so that's what we are doing. Our sales predictions are very conservative at $325 million. I know personally that we'll make more, but we wanted to make sure we could reach the number."
Shao said the first shipment of GP66 will be 1,680 55-gallon containers sometime before year's end.
Michael McCoy, of the trade publication Chemical Marketing Reporter, said that if sales do reach $325 million, then 1,000 new employees is possible.
For expansion, Kaplanges said, he has his eye on 4 1/2 acres almost adjacent to his business at Holabird Industrial Park.
Kaplanges said he has done business internationally before, but not with the effort and resources involved in the China deal. Although the ministry was interested in his product, which cleans manufacturing plants, engines, floors, carpet and many more surfaces, he still had to cut through large rolls of red tape.
To help sort out the details, Kaplanges said, he enlisted the help of the Commerce Department's export assistance department. The regional director sat in on his initial meetings with the Chinese.
The next step, Kaplanges said, was getting the product officially sanctioned by Beijing, and he knew he would need more help.
"I talked with Secretary [James T.] Brady in the Office of Economic Development and I told him the situation. I said I needed a letter from Gov. Glendening telling the Chinese who I am, that I've been in business for over 30 years and what my product is all about," he said. "The governor wrote the letter, and mailed it."
While the letter was en route, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican who represents Maryland's 2nd Congressional District, happened to be in Beijing on a human rights mission. Kaplanges called Ehrlich's Washington office, faxed him a copy of Glendening's letter, and the congressman hand-delivered the letter to the minister of Chemical Industry.
Kaplanges said the product was sanctioned in May 1997. Kaplanges, a Greek-American, called his cleaner GP66, he says, for "Greek Power" and 1966, the year he invented it.
"There are 101 uses for this product, and it's pet safe, environmentally safe and USDA approved," said Kaplanges' wife, Iona.
The product's safety is one of the reasons why Shao said he wanted the product for China.
"In the kitchen, every Chinese family uses a lot of oil. The oven gets very hot and a lot of smoke comes out. This makes everything very sticky and dirty. After we sent 500 GP66 kits back to China, we found that no product worked as good. GP66 can be sprayed on food, and it won't do any harm. We just have to show the Chinese people how to use the product," Shao said. "We are very impressed with the product."
Pub Date: 11/11/97