16 Sept 2005
Top Button(HKTDC Fashion - Fabrics & Accessories, Vol 01,2006)
Wellfit Products Co Ltd
With a modern factory in Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland, Wellfit supplies mainly buttons to mainland-based garment manufacturers in addition to makers and buyers in Hong Kong.
Business is good, and the firm is expanding. "When we started out, we did a lot of bread-and-butter production, making huge quantities at low prices," recalls director Terence Yan. "However, a couple of years ago, we rethought our goals and realised there might be better ways to achieve them."
With prices dropping order by order, season by season and year after year, Yan says there seemed no end to thinner profits. "This motivated us to start developing items for customers, rather than waiting for orders to come in. We decided we had to conduct our own research on the latest trends and to design new items to show our customers. That proved to be the turning point," says Yan.
"Previously, a customer might send us samples to copy. Today, we work more closely with clients to help them establish their own designs and collections. This is better for garment-producing customers, since they do not have to worry about designing buttons or trims and can concentrate on making the clothes."
While buttons continue to be Wellfit's core business line, Yan notes that customers often prefer the convenience of buying as many accessories as possible from a single supplier rather than different sources.
"We try to provide comprehensive consolidation services and supply everything including items such as labels. We act as a one-stop shop, which is a trend now anyway, and most of our clients are more than happy to pay a small premium for this service. However, I stress that most of our sales and profits still come from buttons," says Yan.
Many of the company's customers are buying offices for garment retailers or big brand owners. "There is less need today for us to make sales calls on garment factories, and a greater need to service the accounts of our clients who tend to place bulk orders when their businesses are doing well," says Yan.
"Many firms can produce buttons," he adds, "but we distinguish ourselves by especially good service. For example, many companies want logos on their buttons and we do not charge for the moulds if they are not too expensive. We also have fast delivery times and can strike a sample in 7-14 days, so clients can manage better turnaround times."
About 70% of Wellfit's production goes to buyers in Hong Kong - with half of that ending up on garments that are exported. Another 30% of production is directly exported overseas.
Yan says he travels frequently: to the US (two or three times a year), Europe (regularly) and so much to the Chinese mainland that Wellfit is looking to set up an office in Shanghai.
"We have to find out what's out there, so travelling is essential," Yan says. "There is no point sitting around and thinking up ideas in isolation - we have to catch the trends as early as possible. That allows us to see what manufacturing needs must be covered for the next two or three seasons."
He recalls when rhinestones became popular. "We were onto this trend early and quickly included them in our sales catalogue. To get solid orders, you have to be two or three seasons ahead. When customers and their designers see that we are right up with the trends it gives them added confidence to work with us."
Although trying to anticipate trends, Wellfit does not attempt to create them. "There is plenty of market intelligence to be gathered, not so much in Asia - apart from Japan - but in Europe and the US, which are quite different in terms of style. On balance, I would say Europe is the leader when it comes to starting fashion trends, and it is also very careful when it comes to quality, safety and the types of raw materials used."
According to Yan, the most common materials used to make buttons are brass and zinc alloys and various polyester compounds. "Unfortunately, prices for raw materials have increased astronomically," he says.
Wellfit holds Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification. This relates to finished products and testifies that they have been tested for harmful substances.
"Quality with service is our motto," says Yan, "and we seek to implement it at every opportunity."
WRITTEN BY TONY HENDERSON
Wellfit Products Co Ltd