6 April 2005
A Full Plate(HKTDC Houseware, Vol 02,2005)
"The reason I'm sure of these figures is that we are asked the same question many times by customers and so we had our production and shipping departments do an accurate calculation," says merchandiser Anson Goo.
Equally impressive is Far East's list of high-flying regular buyers, including Dragonair, Singapore Airlines, Delta, Northwest, Air Canada, Aloha, American and about 20 other international airlines - all of which use the company's crockery for first-class passengers.
"Even so," says Goo, "that's just a sample of our roll call of big-time international clients. Other clients include Mobil, Coca-Cola, the Standard Chartered Bank, Hello Kitty, Liptons, Nescafe, Starbucks and Tokyo Disneyland, the last soccer World Cup, restaurant chains and even the US Lighthouse Service."
Some items enjoy excellent longevity, such as a set of six Snoopy mugs with different sketches and colour schemes. "That set is a real golden oldie, with more than four million sold on the mainland and in Japan, Taiwan and other places in Asia - and it is still selling," Goo claims.
The company markets its porcelain under the Far East brand name, and gets much of its business from promotional tie-ins. "For example," explains Goo, "a soup mug and plate produced as a promotional item for the movie, Robots, was a one-off run of about 100,000."
He says Far East is also working on a large order for the opening of Disneyland in Hong Kong in September. "We are also negotiating with sports authorities in Beijing for orders for the 2008 Olympics."
When negotiating with US clients, Far East offers a choice of porcelain or stoneware since the import duty on stoneware is below 10% compared with the 13% and more charged for porcelain.
"We are perfectionists in the production of either product," claims Goo. "For example, stoneware is fired at 1,380䳭 in our kilns and the less delicate stoneware at 800䳭. If rivals skimp on this approach, the result is an inferior product that is easier to chip or break."
Goo claims that apart from guaranteed superior quality, other advantages from Far East include competitive prices, punctual delivery and fast follow-up service.
Far East has come a long way since setting up as a small trader and wholesaler in the US in 1987. It moved its head office to Hong Kong in 1994, to better source chinaware products from the mainland, and four years later opened its first factory in Chaozhou. It has since opened a second factory there and a third in Shenzhen. With all three equipped with the latest pottery-making machinery and equipment, manpower is kept down to a combined total of 1,500.
"Our three main lines are dinnerware sets, tableware for restaurants, hotels and airlines, and promotional mugs and other items," says Goo. "Rivals tend to copy the shapes of our products - although there's nothing really unique about them - but not the patterns."
He says the firm believes it has achieved near-maximum penetration of the US market, and is looking mainly to Europe for future expansion - where many buyers appreciate more traditional designs.
Thanks to lower production costs, Far East also believes it can obtain more growth in the Japanese market despite the latter's strong domestic porcelain industry.
Despite its massive throughput, Far East admits to a couple of problems, particularly concerning payments. "Frankly, some overseas customers take a lot of time to pay, even though we offer very competitive prices and deliver the goods on schedule. It is becoming an increasingly serious problem," says Goo.
Most shipments go through the Yantian container port in Shenzhen, with 60% going to the US, 20% to Europe, 10% to Japan and other Asian countries and the balance "to the rest of the world."
Goo says it is necessary to change patterns frequently and rapidly. "What we display at the Canton Trade Fair in April, for example, cannot be repeated at the October edition, and so all the designs must be changed," he says. "That keeps us alert to trends and our R&D team on its toes."
Far East clearly has lots of business piled up on its plate.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Far East Tableware Ltd