6 July 2004
Cool Hands(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 07,2004)
Hong Kong Brands
Fully Switched On
Mobicool Int'l Ltd
|Mobicool Int'l Ltd sells a wide range of mini fridges worldwide, including the US, Europe, Australia and South Africa|
Few brand names better drive home the image of a company's range of products than that of Mobicool Int'l Ltd. This company manufactures a wide range of coolers: mobile because they are mostly installed in vehicles, yachts, cabin cruisers and other sea-craft; cool as they are mini fridges able to keep drinks, snacks and fruit refrigerated; international because they sell in most parts of the Western world.
Also worth a mention, though, is the flexibility of its products sold in Europe, where winters can be long and bitter. Accordingly, coolers can reverse roles at a flick of a switch to become heaters and provide hot drinks and snacks.
"We cater for a customer's every need," claims international sales manager Ken Ng. "That's just one reason why we have the best name and image in our niche of the industry - a reputation we're very proud of."
Set up in 1991, Mobicool was in the same position as many other Hong Kong companies struggling to get a toehold on the ladder of success. Overseas buyers were keen to take its products, but strictly through OEM deals and therefore under the buyer's brand name.
"These are the normal growing pains for a new company," adds marketing manager Alton Wong. "First, you must establish an international reputation for good quality and reliability. Once that's done, and you have built a firm customer base, then you can take that big step into direct marketing under your own brand name as we did only a couple of years ago."
The gamble came off quite successfully, and Mobicool-branded products now sell in the US, Europe, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
A lot of spadework paved the way for that success. For example, Mobicool took booths in at least two trade fairs a year in Hong Kong, plus other slots in Germany, Japan, Las Vegas, Beijing and Guangzhou. It also advertised widely, and in the US set up two 20-foot exhibitions on wheels to do publicity "milk runs" up and down the west and east coasts and as far inland as Texas.
Working with German connections, the company negotiated deals with some of Europe's biggest car makers - including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Opel, Volvo, (and even MAN trucks) - to include its coolers as an optional extra, with the mini fridge plugged into the dashboard cigarette lighter. There is also a deal with Australia's Ford and, subject to final agreement, Holden.
While these changes were taking place, the company's R&D team pressed ahead envisioning and developing still more innovative products. "We must keep one step ahead of the field so that our competitors can only follow yesterday's footsteps," says Wong. "They run fast, but we run faster."
Among new products is a cooler/fridge specially designed for outdoor use in isolated areas of Australia and South Africa lacking electricity. Using LPG, the unit keeps beer icy cold and food in good condition.
Another popular product is a drawer cooler. Looking like any other drawer in a filing cabinet, it pulls out to reveal chilled cans.
Demand stays strong, and production lines keep busy in Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland, with 150 FEUs shipped every month to overseas markets through Yantian container port.
"It's a seasonal business," explains Wong. "In summer, our goods are mostly going to Europe and the US. Six months later, it's hot in Australia and South Africa, and they become our main destinations."
Mobicool is ISO 9000- and ISO 14001- certified, and operates under SA 8000 auspices for social accountability in protecting employees' rights.
"There are fewer than 400 companies in the world that hold SA 8000 certification, and we're one of the very few on the mainland," says Wong.
The firm has also received an award for excellence from the government of Shenzhen, where it has two adjoining factories with an aggregate size of 50,000 square metres staffed by more than 1,000 workers.
Meanwhile, to share its good fortune with the less privileged, the company sponsors three schools in Jiangsu Province under the mainland's Hope Programme.
Wong doesn't hesitate when asked where Mobicool will be expanding next. "The mainland," he replies. "Think of the vehicle explosion there... plus all the new roads, super highways and so on, and the emergence of a giant trucking industry. The potential is enormous and it's getting bigger every day."
Mobicool has offices in the UK and Europe, and will open up next in the US and Australia.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Mobicool Int'l Ltd