17 June 2004
A Flash Of Inspiration(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 06,2004)
Hong Kong Brands
Get Up And Go!
A Flash Of Inspiration
Sunnex Products Ltd
The Sunnex brand of kitchenware like these electric chafers (front) and soup warmers (back) has won a strong customer base in Western Europe, the US, Australia and the Asian region
The Sunnex brand of kitchen and household ware is well respected both locally and internationally, according to director Michael Yu, who says the company has been a pacesetter since the name was registered 33 years ago.
He points out that the "Sun" part of the name goes back to 1929, when his grandfather set up the Sunbeam torchlight factory in Sham Shui Po with a workforce of about 100.
While definitely affected by the downturn during the Second World War, thanks to a fluke Sunbeam got off to a flying start immediately afterwards. In December 1941, the company had completed a large order for some jumbo flashlights - more than a foot in length - that required six batteries and emitted a powerful long-distance beam. The Japanese occupation troops arrived at the Sunbeam factory, to see what they could requisition, but had to forego the jumbo flashlights because they could not find the right-sized batteries anywhere in Hong Kong.
Accordingly, boxed ready for shipment, the jumbo flashlights were piled up in a corner of the factory and forgotten about for almost four years until Japan surrendered.
When reopening the factory, the elder Yu cannily remembered the delayed shipment and sent out inquiries among importers. After the gloomy war years of blackouts, super-flashlights were suddenly in heavy demand and the lot was quickly sold off to garner capital to re-start manufacturing operations.
"Flashlights were an essential part of village lifestyle, not just in our own New Territories but all over Asia," Yu recalls. "But soon, progress and electrification gradually came to remote areas and the mass-demand simply disappeared."
Accepting the reality of the situation, he brought son Henry back from the US, where he had graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a doctorate in mechanical engineering.
In an inspired move, the Sunbeam Mfg Co Ltd soon became Sunnex Products Ltd and Sunnex soon emerged as the brand name of choice.
"Inspired? Yes, indeed," says Yu. "My father was looking for the next step forward, so how better to put it than to retain the word 'Sun' and add the letters 'nex' for next?"
His father also found a way of tapping metalworking skills to develop new lines of products such as houseware and catering products made of stainless steel.
Building on an established reputation for high-class durable products, Sunnex was soon exporting overseas. "Buyers were attracted by the quality and polished surfaces of our products," he says. "Gradually, in the 1970s and 1980s, we were able to build up a strong customer base in the UK, Western Europe, the US, Asia and Australia. With the rapid expansion of the tourism and hospitality industries from the 1970s onward, we started to concentrate on specialised products for the growing number of hotels and restaurants."
While the Sunnex name became widely established in Western markets, big US chains mostly insisted on using their own brand names to retain corporate identity. "It's a compromise we all have to make to do business in the US," says Yu. "In our other markets - which now extend to Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe including Russia and, most important of all, the big cities of the Chinese mainland - our name and reputation is now well known, and we enjoy customer confidence and satisfaction."
He firmly believes success is due to a long-standing policy of using the best materials available for making top quality products in original designs. "We are rightly proud of Sunnex's brand image - original design, quality-made and value-oriented."
Along the way, Sunnex recorded its biggest sale yet - more than one million tea sets, comprising a stainless steel teapot, coffee pot, and sugar and milk container on a stainless steel tray, sold to British buyers. "That was a very welcome one-off order," says Yu. "We are in a very competitive business and must be prepared to innovate and experiment to keep up with market trends and retain our customer base. For example, we have added specialised electrical appliances to our latest product range, items like electric soup-warmers and electric chafing dishes mainly for the catering trade."
Another new trend involves plastic items. "Non-slip trays, colour-coded cutting boards (green for fruits and vegetables, red for fresh meat and so on) and other eye-catching products. It's a big step away from stainless steel, and future sales patterns will tell us if it's the new way or the wrong way."
The Sunnex way has clearly paid long term dividends.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Sunnex Products Ltd