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November 26, 2013

Eco-friendly entrepreneurs set sights on ice-melt market

Chinese company Dando Chemicals expands with U.S. subsidiary

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Eco-friendly entrepreneurs set sights on ice-melt market
Ronan Zhong, left, and Yipeng Wang attended the Independent Garden Centers Show in Chicago earlier this year. The duo recently opened Dando Chemicals U.S. LLC in Madison Heights.

MADISON HEIGHTS — Yipeng Wang has come a long way — all the way from Beijing, China, to be precise. And he has a long way to go, now that his company, Dando Chemicals, has a foothold in North America, with the opening of its U.S. subsidiary in Madison Heights.

“As a new company, it’s a bit difficult to start here, since the market is mature, and we don’t have any networks,” said Wang, who registered Dando Chemicals as an offshore company in England in 2008, opened the main offices in Beijing in 2010 and arrived in the U.S. in 2012. “We’re not native (to America), and we have many competitors here … but we’re starting to find our way.”

His company is pushing a new product this winter, DANDO Premium Ice Melt, aimed at homeowners willing to pay a bit more — an MSRP of $7.99 per 10-pound bag — for an ice melt that is 20 times less corrosive on concrete than regular salt.

It’s a mild solution that provides instant ice melt at minimal environmental impact. Unlike regular rock salt, it doesn’t harden soil or lessen fertility. It’s made of all-natural magnesium chloride, no chemicals added, instead of the usual sodium chloride or calcium chloride mix. The magnesium chloride comes from an unpolluted salt lake 14,000 feet above sea level in the Tibetan Plateau. And unlike sodium chloride, which absorbs heat as it melts, magnesium chloride gives off heat, lasting longer. It’s also safer for people and pets. 

Wang believes strongly in his product, and that belief is carrying him against some daunting odds. His company is a fish in a sea of sharks — large-scale chemical companies already established in the U.S. — and thrifty municipalities, among the largest consumers of ice melt, aren’t likely to purchase a premium product, even if it’s more eco-friendly and less corrosive to public property in the long run.

As such, Wang is keeping the company’s focus on homeowners who care about the upkeep of their properties and want to be good stewards of the environment.

“It’s more suitable for home application than industrial. You can use it (for industrial), but most cities can’t afford that,” Wang said. “We have done market research, and we find the products used in homes are the same kind used on the streets, so we want to offer a product much better for someone’s home implementation.”

Dando Chemicals has found other uses for magnesium chloride, as well, selling it to companies in Australia that use the raw material for cosmetic skincare products.

Once it’s extracted from the snowy mountains of Qinghai-Tibet, it’s refined in the city of Tianjin. Raw materials are just one facet of Dando Chemicals’ sprawling scope, which also includes food additives and chemical reagents in laboratories. The company started out in the agricultural fertilizer industry and continues its work there.

Wang came to the U.S. as an exchange MBA student of China University of Political Science and Law, one of the premier law schools in China. He also earned a bachelor’s degree with a focus in applied chemistry from the Beijing University of Chemical Technology in 2007.

Once in the U.S., he enrolled at University of Detroit Mercy in April 2012 to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. His intention was to open operations in North America — what he considers one of the most lucrative markets for chemical sales.

It was at the University of Detroit Mercy that Wang met his future collaborator, Ronan Zhong, who was also pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, with intentions to seek employment in California. Zhong, a native of Kunming, capital of China’s Yunnan Province, had already earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Wenzhou University. He arrived in the U.S. in 2011, a year before Wang.

Wang didn’t have a place to stay when he arrived in America, so Zhong said he could stay at his apartment. The two roommates soon realized they could work together to open the U.S. subsidiary of Wang’s company, Dando Chemicals U.S. LLC.

Now that the company is open in Madison Heights, they’re looking for accounts, talking to small shops and big-box stores alike.

At one point, they visited every gas station on 11 Mile from Mound Road to Coolidge Highway, about 100 by Zhong’s estimate.

“We got several accounts, but we still have a long ways to go,” Zhong said. “Coming from China means we’re still on our way to expanding our niche work to a larger scale. But for now, we’re focusing on a niche market, since we don’t have the resources yet to compete in wholesale.”

But all companies have to start somewhere, he noted.

“It’s been very challenging,” Zhong said, “but very exciting.” 

Dando Chemicals U.S. LLC is located at 551 E. 11 Mile Road, Suite 3B, and can be reached at (248) 629-9434, or by visiting www.dandochem.us.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.