When a business has an idea for a product but can’t seem to find a manufacturer that supplies it, what does it do? That’s the question Buffalo-based Avanti Advanced Manufacturing seeks to answer for companies.
An expansion of Canadian injection molding company Victory Manufacturing, AAM manufactures detectable tactiles, construction products, and customized injection-molding projects with the capability to go from concept to prototype to end product with significant speed.
Owner Jim Wei started his company around the same time as the Great Recession, fueled by a desire to expedite processes for businesses that had traditionally relied on overseas products. He also didn’t want to be bogged down by “what ifs?” or questions that he could have started a business on his own at a younger age. So, in his thirties, he went all-in on AAM with the advice of a close mentor, Mr. Keung.
“In the early stages, before Avanti, there were so many things that he helped me with,” Wei said of Keung. “For instance, when I first decided to become an entrepreneur, the first years were very hard landing clients. He said, ‘If this is what you want, don’t give up. Opportunities don’t come overnight, and it takes time to get your first deal.’”
Wei worked hard to land that first deal. And when he did, Keung came through with another bit of sage advice: Don’t mess it up.
“After the second year in business, I landed my first contract, and he said very clearly, ‘Do not screw up on your first contract or you’re done. People will talk and you won’t get any references. You have to make sure you succeed, even if you lose money.’”
That first project was for an injection-molding maker in Canada that had suppliers in China. Wei dove head in, learning all he could about the supply chain and how he could make his customer content. Having been working in Canada in importing and exporting construction supplies, he had connections overseas and saw the potential customer as a perfect fit for developing a startup.
“That startup gave me an opportunity to see what China was doing, figure out the math and see how I could compete,” Wei said. “I literally spent 70 percent of my time in China, visiting suppliers making parts to make the project work for the customer. I was hands-on, making sure it was done accordingly.”
Wei got the job done and eventually found his way to Western New York, where he was able to expand on what he had been doing north of the border with Victory Manufacturing. AAM set up shop in 2011, specializing in mandatory safety installations, including raised bump floor warnings for the visually impaired, stair grips, and new, glow-in-the-dark exit door signs that last much longer than battery-operated versions. The new division began with six injection-molding machines and has already expanded to nine. The company has also added sand blasting, powder coat and painting, and laser engraving capabilities, as well as a Computer Numerical Control router.
“With CNC routing, basically we have a 3D drawing of a complex shape, and then enter it into a CNC routing machine to cut the shape to the drawing,” Wei said. “It accommodates the tight turns and thin angles required that would be impossible to cut by hand.”
AAM was a passion project of Wei’s that he self-funded. But it wasn’t because he came from a wealthy background. He said he “penny-pinched” for years, making sacrifices along the way to see his entrepreneur dreams come to life. But he did have help from the Western New York startup community along the way, working with organizations such as Buffalo Niagara Enterprise – now Invest Buffalo Niagara.
“I think I was on the first podcast they ever did,” Wei joked.
Today, he is managing a thriving company that recently expanded its manufacturing footprint to more that 110,000 square feet with the acquisition of Hohl Machinery on Niagara Street in 2018. And he is giving back to the community by working with Catholic Charities, helping refugees in the process of resettlement to find employment.
That work helped AAM receive acknowledgement from Buffalo Business First, receiving its 2018 Community Involvement Award. AAM was also previously a BBF Manufacturing Sustainability Award recipient in 2015 for reducing energy consumption by moving from a water to a fan cooling system. Wei has also been recognized as a 40 Under 40 recipient from the publication.
Wei hopes to continue growing AAM through word-of-mouth from current customers and outreach at trade shows throughout North America.
“We are constantly looking for other opportunities,” he said. “We turn every stone we can and nothing goes unturned.”