31 Aug 2007
Fabulous Fasteners(HKTDC Fashion - Fabrics & Accessories, Vol 01,2008)
|U.C. Co Ltd has been manufacturing high-quality zippers since 1976, producing more than 400 tons annually|
The humble zipper may look simple, but a lot of knowledge and expertise is required for the production of this essential garment item. So says U.C. Co Ltd business development manager Ellis Tai, the second-generation member of a family business that debuted in 1976 under the name of Shun Tat Zipper Ltd.
The young entrepreneur takes pride in recounting how his father started from scratch in the 1970s, claiming the company is an industry veteran.
"My father began with just one machine and we were among the first group of domestic manufacturers to produce plastic zippers," Tai claims. "We were also the first to introduce cover dyeing, which at that time was mostly done in Taiwan."
Today, that small workshop has been transformed into a 400-worker, 300,000-square-foot factory in Dongguan on the Chinese mainland which produces more than 400 tons of zippers annually.
The plastic, metal and nylon zippers are shipped worldwide, Tai says, noting that U.C. Co has become fully integrated. "Now we are capable of accomplishing nearly 90% of zipper production from end-to-end, including tape weaving, plastic injection, moulding, dye-casting and dyeing - we even custom-make small machinery for our own needs," he explains. "The only department we don't have is electroplating, which we don't mind as this is a specialised area."
U.C. Co has also invested in a 30-metre-long mono-filament machine, which melts polyester and extends it into mono-filaments for nylon zipper production.
Tai notes this machine is rarely found in other zipper production firms. "It boosts our capability in R&D as we can develop the filament in the exact diameter, colour and opaqueness demanded by our customers," he notes. "It is hard to make these requests of a mono-filament factory if we buy ready-made product in small quantities."
Tai adds that these fully-integrated operations enable U.C. Co to provide quick and flexible services to its customers, while also enabling better control of cost and quality from raw material sourcing to finished product.
All these competencies have also helped the company to win big customers like Nike, which used Shun Tat to make zippers via other manufacturers more than 10 years ago.
However, this business was reduced as those suppliers were gradually cut from Nike's vendor list. "In 2004 Nike decided to monitor some of its accessory suppliers and found us on its old list," Tai explains. "After evaluating our products and plant, it appointed us as one of the four authorised zipper suppliers in Asia from which its product manufacturers must source."
U.C. Co wasn't too optimistic at the start of this arrangement as several of the appointed product manufacturers were Taiwanese companies, and it is industry practice for manufacturers to purchase products from suppliers of the same origin.
"It was a nice surprise when more than half of Nike's manufacturers eventually ended up buying from us, and many have become loyal customers who have grown with us over the years," Tai adds.
Customers seldom change suppliers because the performance and stability of zippers is very important when it comes to the final product, and suppliers and manufacturers adapt to each other's needs, Tai remarks.
"But it also means it is not easy for us to find new customers unless we can offer outstanding products plus value-added service, and that is what we try to do to keep thriving," he claims.
The last three decades have seen the family business shift focus from manufacturing mass products in the 1970s and 1980s to offering more upmarket, quality products in the 1990s.
Now U.C. Co's strategy is to collaborate with big brands, which Tai stresses, is a "win-win" strategy for both parties.
"By appointing us as their zipper suppliers, they can be directly involved in cost control and work very closely with their vendors on product development," Tai concludes.
"Meeting their evaluation and system requirements has propelled us to keep striving for better performance - in fact, other customers who work with us are also benefiting from the fruitful results we have gained over all these years."
TEXT BY WINNIE HUI
U.C. Co Ltd