Deal Made For Soviet Print Shops
An Orange County businessman has struck an unusual deal with the Soviet government to make printing, copying and publishing services more readily available to Soviet citizens, including establishment of Moscow’s first commercial chain of copying and printing stores.
The joint venture, announced Wednesday by the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco, will be a profit-oriented, U.S.-Soviet partnership.
Martin B. Lopata, a Huntington Beach management consultant who heads the American side of the partnership, said the company plans to open its first print shop in Moscow by Jan. 1. Eighteen stores and a central printing plant are planned in Moscow, with future sites in other Soviet cities, he said.
The self-service copy shops so prevalent in the United States are not found in Soviet cities. Copying machines are scarceand are usually located only in government buildings. People are often required to wait in long lines to use them.
Besides the copying and printing operations, the new company has longer-range plans to sell American books, records, computer gear, audiovisual products, advertising services, jewelry and souvenirs.
The project has “tremendous potential for expanding the range of goods and services offered to the Soviet people and to foreign visitors in the U.S.S.R,” Soviet Deputy Consul General Gennadiy I. Zolotov said at a San Francisco press conference Wednesday.
“By the scale of operations and the capital outlays, this is not a major development,” Zolotov said in a telephone interview later. “Perhaps it is more important in the sense that it involves new forms of cooperation between two (U.S. and Soviet) corporations.”
The venture was proposed by the Soviets last winter and is an outgrowth of the Gorbachev-Reagan Moscow summit meeting earlier this year, when the two leaders “reiterated their strong support for development of economic ties between the two sides,” Zolotov said.
As part of Gorbachev’s program of economic reforms, the Soviet Union has gradually been introducing elements of supply and demand into what has traditionally been a centrally planned economy.
“This is part of . . . making the economy function more efficiently with the introduction of a profit-and-marketing orientation,” Zolotov said.
The company will be operated “on an experimental basis” and, “to the extent permitted by Soviet law,” with American rather than Soviet-style management techniques for production, marketing, sales and accounting. This is the first time a Soviet company has agreed to experiment with American management practices under Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” reform program, Soviet officials said.
The company will be called Sovaminco, for Soviet-American International Co. The Soviet partners, who will own 51% of the company, are Sintez, which is a private Soviet company, and two Soviet government-affiliated companies, MIR Publishers, a publishing house, and Record, a film production firm. The other 49% will be owned by Unicorn Investments International, a Huntington Beach company that Lopata formed for the venture.
The company was registered as a legal entity in Moscow on Monday, officials said.
Soviet officials said Sovaminco is the first U.S.-Soviet business venture in which an American firm has teamed up with both the Soviet government and one of the new private Soviet companies, known as “cooperatives.”
Under new Soviet “joint project” laws, the company can sell shares of stock to the public in the Soviet Union and abroad.
The total start-up costs for the copying and printing operation will be $3.3 million, with 49% to be in U.S. dollars and 51% in Russian rubles. Lopata, who said he is personally investing $500,000 in the company, said Unicorn Investments will be entitled to 49% of any profits the company earns.
The joint venture agreement includes plans for Sovaminco to open an “American-style restaurant” and a movie theater to show American films.
Lopata said financing is available for the printing and publishing operation, but conceded that funding is not in place for several of the other projects. “The question now,” he said, “is, can we do all this financially.”
Lopata, a New York City native and third-generation Russian-American, founded MBL Industries in Santa Ana. He sold the aerosol chemical manufacturer to Amrep, a Georgia-based firm, in October, 1987.
Lopata said he runs a small marketing consulting firm called Unicorn Seminars. He describes himself as a “motivational speaker” who gives talks to churches, clubs and other small groups on topics such as “The Art of Selling” and “How to Run a Successful Church.” He is a former vice chairman of the Los Angeles-based Church of Religious Science’s board of trustees.
Lopata said he was approached last February by a staff member of the Goskomizdat, the Soviet publishing, printing and book committee. The staff member asked Lopata to assist in creating a printing services operation in the Soviet Union. Lopata was attending the Soviet/American Citizens Summit in Alexandria, Va.
“I’m excited about this project because, for me, it is a chance to make a difference in the world,” Lopata said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.