21 Oct 2008
Reliable Radios(HKTDC Electronics, Vol 03,2008)
One of the biggest myths about today's electronics industry is that mobile phones have totally replaced walkie-talkies, says Wong Hoi Shan, Founder and Senior Partner of Wealthy Electronics Ltd.
"In fact, walkie-talkies are in wider use than ever," he stresses. "To use an extreme example, when an earthquake destroys whole cities all the cellphone networks and phone landlines crash but walkie-talkies remain in perfect order because they use batteries.
"Plus they're an ever-reliable standby in other natural disasters like floods and snowstorms such as those that occurred several months ago in South China - not to mention other emergencies like fires."
Mr Wong should know: he's been selling increasingly efficient walkie-talkies all around the world for nearly 20 years and is an agent for some of the world's top brands and their accessories - Motorola, Kenwood, Vertex Standard amateur radio and Diamond antennas.
He's also quick to point out that the everyday use of walkie-talkies involves far simpler tasks than playing a key role in handling disasters. "These include efficient management of large commercial buildings and housing estates, security surveillance, crowd control at heavily attended events like football games, keeping tabs on a company's fleet of container trucks and even improving efficiency at large restaurants by helping staff direct guests to tables," Mr Wong explains.
This extensive product knowledge comes from a working life in communications, beginning with a diploma in marine electronics from the Hong Kong Polytechnic followed by two years at sea in the early 1980s as a radio officer on ocean-going freighters.
Back in Hong Kong between voyages, he met a friend who was about to register a new company - a procedure Mr Wong imagined involved much red tape and great expense.
His friend explained how simple it was, and agreed to file an application for Mr Wong, too, provided he paid the fee and provided a name for his proposed company.
This paper company became a reality much later when a friend who was "crazy" about all the developments then taking place in hi-tech communications decided to come in as a partner and added his technical skills to Mr Wong's.
"We started off in a hut covering about 200 square feet in area and didn't even have a desk or chairs," Mr Wong recalls. "We screwed some brackets onto the wall and placed a sheet of five-ply wood across them, creating a 'bench' we could use."
But most of the time was spent driving around Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories, visiting radio and electronic-product shops trying to sell them walkie-talkies and related accessories or help them with repairs.
"Sometimes we made only $20 or so a day profit, but gradually we built up a reputation for honesty and reliability," Mr Wong says. "Business improved so much that we moved to a small unit in Sham Shui Po, which had become a sort of Hong Kong hi-tech centre."
Taiwan was initially the main source of walkie-talkies, but customers gradually demanded better-quality equipment so Mr Wong built the valuable contacts he still maintains with American and Japanese walkie-talkie manufacturers.
"Because we're virtually sales agents we don't work with factories on the Chinese mainland," says Mr Wong. "Actually our Motorola products are made in Penang, Malaysia."
Wealthy Electronic's contracts don't allow it to operate in the domestic markets of its supplier companies, so the company sells to Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and former Soviet states.
"Often walk-in customers turn up with an order book and a satchel full of money because they have heard that we're honest and dependable," Mr Wong explains. "They usually begin with a trial consignment and then there's silence for several weeks before suddenly they're back - often with a large order."
To be able to fill such orders on the spot, Wealthy Electronics recently bought five more adjoining units to use as a warehouse at its headquarters in Kwai Hing in the New Territories.
The warehouse's complete inventory consists of $20 million-worth of the latest walkie-talkies and components. "That represents nearly 20 years of hard work but we are confident that it is just the beginning as there will always be a demand for quality walkie-talkies," Mr Wong concludes.