3 March 2005
Light Fantastic(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 03,2005)
Neo-Neon Holdings Ltd
As a struggling young journalist in Taiwan, doing translation work to eke out a meagre living, Ben Fan suddenly found inspiration. Looking at the lighting document he was translating, he thought: "There has to be a much simpler way to do this."
Later, alone at first and then with a handful of fellow enthusiasts, Fan proved his idea was not only workable but also that the end-product was much cheaper and better.
That was in 1978, and what eventuated from that original flash of inspiration was to prove a glittering success story. The company that ex-journalist Fan founded was Neo-Neon Holdings Ltd, today the world's leading manufacturer of decorative lighting with an annual turnover of more than US$100m and a sheaf of international awards.
According to vice-president of sales and marketing Steve Yung, the firm also has partnerships and joint ventures with some of the leading lighting companies in Europe and the US.
"What Ben Fan envisioned was coloured lighting enclosed in a plastic tube, safe for children to handle, and working from an ordinary household power plug," Yung explains.
"That idea was a dramatic advance on a rival product available at the time that required 1,000-plus volts to generate white light, and was enclosed in a breakable glass tube far too hot to touch with bare hands," he recalls.
The "rope light" concept, as it was called, enabled all sorts of designs in various colours - and proved especially popular for Christmas decorations.
However, that was just the start and ahead lay designs for all manner of novelty light decorations - everything from candy stripes to simulated fireworks in hundreds of different displays. "That is why today the scenic spots of cities across the globe are decked out in strings of coloured lights; as are historic buildings and bridges, clock towers and hilltop castles and, at sea, tourist ships, ferries and even battleships," says Yung.
"Our products have also lit up some of the world's biggest cities for some of the most momentous events," he adds. "New York and Paris every year, for Independence Day and Bastille Day, respectively. Moscow for the celebration of the democratisation of the former USSR, and Hong Kong to celebrate the 1997 return of the former colony to the Chinese mainland - to name but a few."
First among Neo-Neon's global span of customers is Europe, followed by North America and Asia. The firm is now seeking to expand sales in Japan, where decorative lighting is a way of life and penetrating the market is a tough call.
Production takes place at a mainland factory in He Shan in Guangdong Province that employs 15,000 workers (25,000 at peak periods) and occupies more than five million square feet. Yung says the factory is super-efficient, and can despatch 60 FEU containers a day.
Neo-Neon takes pride in caring for its workforce, and its factory has a swimming pool, tennis courts and other sports facilities. Other features include a supermarket, restaurant, hairdresser, laundry and medical facilities. "There is even a 60-room hotel for VIP visitors and clients who can enjoy a hit-out at the mini-golf course," smiles Yung.
As a good corporate neighbour, the company has also built and stocked a four-storey public library adjoining its factory. "The library is widely used by students and other locals," Yung says.
Apart from the impressive production facilities, one of the busiest sections at the factory is the R&D department, where 200 hand-picked graduates compete to come up with yet another brilliant breakthrough.
"On the other hand, collaborating with these young, razor-sharp minds in fully equipped laboratories are scientists and researchers from Shanghai's much-respected Fudan University," says Yung, revealing that painstaking effort has led to a breakthrough in LED use.
"Our registered Duralight name represents products used for static lighting over large areas, with the added advantage of gradual colour changes covering much of the spectrum," says Yung. "This means that towers, pillars and other landmarks can be illuminated in delightful colour patterns."
Neo-Neon, like others, faces problems with firms that try to copy or imitate its products. "We hate those people as they never stop trying. However, we remain vigilant and always put them out of business," explains Yung.
"We employ a team of crack corporate lawyers to get them before a judge before they can get their operations off the ground," he adds. "They are usually fined about US$25,000, which brings them up with a jolt."
While one segment of the dozen-strong legal section is busy prosecuting copycats, he says another section is ensuring cast-iron copyright coverage across the Chinese mainland and internationally for each new lighting development.
Starting out on a bright note, Neo-Neon looks certain to continue lighting up the world for a long time to come.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Neo-Neon Holdings Ltd