Thursday, February 28th, 2008
Hoge talks of selling lanes overseas
By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - John Hoge considers himself a rare duck in Hong Kong, where he travels four times a year selling bowling lanes and other sports floors, one of which will be a volleyball court in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The president of Hoge Lumber in New Knoxville has been making that 16-hour flight for 12 years.
"Spending all that time together, I like to talk to people on the plane ... Most of them are going to Hong Kong to buy, but I'm the rare duck on my way to sell," he told St. Marys Rotarians at a Wednesday luncheon meeting.
A chatty sort of guy, Hoge was not at a loss for a good story or two as he talked about doing business in China beginning in Taipei where he sold a few lanes to an Army procurement operation. This spurred Hoge to envision selling to all military bases in the Far East.
(Taipei is on the Taiwan island just off the China shore, not on the mainland.)
He got an order from Camp Drake, near Tokyo, Japan, for lanes in the social club on base.
"One night a week they opened it up to Japanese civilians working on the base and they'd line up at 7 a.m. so they'd be sure to get a spot when the lanes opened at 7 p.m.," said Hoge, who immediately saw enormous possibilities for sales outside the military.
Things went very well and soon Hoge Lumber was shipping 550 lanes a month. But Hoge said the bowling market's history, in the U.S. as well as overseas, is that it's strong and then stops. Seeing those whopper sales to civilians, Hoge said, "I began to salivate looking at the China market."
"China is shaped like a chicken," he said. "There is a lot of oil industry in the far northwest of the country, but it's a poverty area ... So these big industries (install a lot of perks) to get people up there. I knew we'd do well in that area."
Of course, China has had more than its share of governmental strife, and Hoge has experienced some of the fall out such as the 1999 Belgrade bombing by the U.S. that mistakenly took out the Chinese embassy killing several people.
"I was in China when that happened. People were angry toward Americans and I don't exactly blend into the wall," said the blonde, fair-skinned Hoge, who emerged unscathed.
An international observation from the New Knoxville native is that China is not a high crime country simply because they will not put up with it.
A woman who works in his China office often works until 2 a.m. and walks home through Hong Kong streets, a 35-minute trip. "She's totally safe. I asked her about it and she told me the government simply does not put up with lawlessness," he said.
The woman later brought him a newspaper article about nine men who were executed for car theft. They were all dead within 24 hours of being convicted.
"Can you image if we began executing car thieves in America? We'd have a lot fewer people ... Plus, 24 hours after conviction," exclaimed Hoge alluding to the American way of often keeping people on death row for decades.
He then spoke of the misconception of American companies paying Chinese workers next to nothing.
"I pay Helen $18,000 a year and that puts her in the top 1 percent in earnings ... M.D.s make about $12,000 a year ... So $11 a day for 10 hours work is quite acceptable to the Chinese," he said, adding these workers sleep right at their work location on a little mat.
Speaking of money, he told the Rotarians that Hoge will be doing the volleyball flooring for the Olympics in Beijing this summer, but the company did not get the contract for the basketball floors. He said there are several thousand dollars in fee, etc., associated with the contracts and he just couldn't afford it.
As to a capitalist dealing with communists, Hoge echoed the sentiments of a Chinese friend, "He told me 'white cats and black cats can both catch mice.' ''