A local manufacturer blames Chinese imports for its loss of sales.
By Don Shilling
WARREN — Backyard Buddy is tired of dealing with a neighborhood bully and has asked for congressional help.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan visited the Warren manufacturer Monday and promised to assist in its battle against Chinese imports.
Ryan, of Niles, D-17th, gathered information from Larry Gross, company chief executive, and said he would research whether a trade case could be filed to create tariffs on Chinese auto lifts.
Backyard Buddy, 140 Dana St., has seen sales of its auto lifts plummet in the past five years as Chinese companies have entered the market.
The local company used to produce between 3,500 and 4,500 lifts a year but now is making just 500. Employment has been cut from 40 to 21.
Backyard Buddy sold its electric- powered lifts to car collectors and backyard mechanics all over the U.S. and in some foreign countries for the past 20 years, but customers now are flocking toward the Chinese lifts because they are inexpensive.
Gross said the Chinese lifts are being sold for less than what he pays for the parts that go into his lifts. His lifts cost $4,500 each, compared with $1,500 for the Chinese models.
Gross said his lifts, which use only American-made steel, are worth the added expense because they are more sturdy, but that’s hard to convey in an advertisement.
“People don’t know the difference in quality. They don’t know what safety is all about,” he said.
Gross called Ryan for help after seeing that the congressman was assisting local steel mills in a trade case against Chinese pipe manufacturers. Tariffs have been approved because the Chinese companies were found to be selling the pipe for less than what it costs to make it.
Ryan said he would like to find out if the same thing is happening with auto lifts.
He said the U.S. government is starting to fight back against unfair trade from China, noting that tariffs also have been enacted on Chinese-made tires.
U.S. manufacturers are having trouble competing with Chinese companies because they are being subsidized by the Chinese government, and they don’t have the same environmental and safety regulations, Ryan said.
Gross said he was encouraged by Ryan’s tour of his plant and interest in his industry. He said he didn’t expect any quick resolutions but hoped that publicity would help create some momentum for a political solution to the problems faced by many domestic manufacturers.
Gross, 64, started J&L Welding & Fabricating nearly 40 years ago as a supplier to local steel mills. He created Backyard Buddy when he noticed he couldn’t find an auto lift for his own use. With the collapse of the local steel industry, his company now is devoted solely to the lifts.
Despite the influx of foreign competition, Gross said his company will survive because of a loyal following of customers who like its lifts.
But to reach out to new customers who are sensitive to price, Gross has given in to the times. He recently ordered some Chinese lifts and will be selling them for $2,875 each.
He said they were the best Chinese lifts he could find, but he’s throwing in a bag of American-made bolts with each order because he’s had trouble with the bolts that come with the lifts. And he’s providing only a six-month warranty, instead the five-year coverage that comes with his lifts.
Gross noted that he’s a former Marine who served in Vietnam, and he’s bothered by selling a foreign-made product.
“I’m pretty much a red-necked American, but I have to eat,” he said.