8 Dec 2004
A Breath Of Fresh Air(HKTDC Electronics, Vol 06,2004)
Originality is the key word for one of Hong Kong's most prolific audio appliance manufacturers, whose showroom is packed with an impressive array of unique audio appliances.
"We design and produce 15-20 new and exclusive items every year, all of which are patented," claims Oxygen Ltd general manager Olivier Pierson.
Oxygen's originality springs from its strong design background, having begun operations in 1993 as independent design house Zoo Design, creating innovative products for companies that wanted exclusive items with European flair.
Zoo later became part of the Interforce Group and Oxygen Ltd was formed in 1998 as the Group's biggest subsidiary, responsible for developing and launching the full range of Oxygen audio appliances.
The fledgling operation started with Europe as its main target but two years ago cracked the US market and now designs, manufactures and sells half of its output there, Pierson notes.
"We have succeeded in the US partly because there has been a change in culture and they have become more receptive to European style, and partly because we have adjusted our designs to fit more countries," he believes, adding that the US market is still growing.
Korea and Japan are also emerging markets, thanks to Oxygen's extraordinarily large range of products, which includes turntables, micro systems, portable CD radios, boom boxes, shower radio CDs and lamp digital clock radios.
"Our success is due to the fact that we are a purely ODM company, so customers come to us for our designs," Pierson maintains. "Our products are design- rather than technology-oriented, and our guideline is to produce nice, sellable products with efficient technology."
The company has 60 staff, 50 of whom are stationed in Zhongshan on the Chinese mainland, which is the company's engineering and R&D centre.
"Among them is a team of 15 designers and 25 personnel who deal with quality control and various technical and engineering issues," Pierson adds.
He explains that Oxygen outsources production to selected mainland factories that have been working with the company from the beginning.
"Our quality control team visits the manufacturers regularly to monitor the whole production process right from the selection of raw materials to the completed products," Pierson notes.
These quality control standards are reinforced by ISO 9001 certification, which Oxygen received in 2003, and the creation of its own Interforce Lab to perform in-house testing and approvals.
"Not only has quality control improved, we have also cut development lead time down to 4-6 months," Pierson reveals. "This is significantly shorter than the industry average, which is normally 6-10 months."
Oxygen produces three million pieces annually and accepts variable minimum orders that depend on the product but can be delivered 45-60 days after order confirmation.
The company's best seller to date is the CRD 176A/176C CD clock radio released in 1998. "We've sold more than two million pieces - the demand doesn't stop," Pierson proclaims.
But Oxygen is not resting on its laurels and emerging hits include the 'metro-look' micro system, whose quintessential modern look and feel has made it a favourite with buyers in numerous markets.
The company also recently trialled turntable amplifiers that play classic vinyl records, audio machines Pierson refers to as "the revival", and have been "extremely well received".
October's Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Edition) saw Oxygen reveal its latest 'secret weapon' - a series of futuristic audio appliances. "We'll soon know whether it will become another market favourite, but I am confident it will be a big seller," Pierson says.
He adds that exhibiting at leading trade fairs is instrumental in Oxygen's ongoing success. "The fairs are very important," Pierson says. "We participate in 3-4 fairs a year, where we receive feedback from our clients and ideas about future trends and demand."
Next year Oxygen plans to participate in five fairs, including three Hong Kong Trade Development Council exhibitions as well as the Las Vegas CES and Berlin IFA.
These will serve as a suitable sounding board for Oxygen's future developments, which will be at the cutting edge of the audio appliance industry. "We might even contemplate making digital products," Pierson admits.
WRITTEN BY CAM CHEUNG