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A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY(HKTDC Houseware,1998)

Nov 1998



A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
- Starform Services Ltd.

STORAGE SUCCESS
- Worldwide Marketing Partners Ltd.

A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
Starform Services Ltd.

SUNNY Hu does not have to look too far to find a market for the innovative windows and doors made by Starform Services Ltd.

The view from the company's 23rd-floor showroom takes in Hong Kong's Central business district, but it is not just the congestion of a high-rise city that she sees, but the thousands of windows that create a vital barrier between the people inside each tower and the elements outside.

"In the evolution of windows we see ourselves as modern-day pioneers," says Hu, Starform's business development manager. "We are combining the benefits of wood and steel with the functions of aluminium to create long-lasting windows."

Starform's products are sold in Hong Kong and mainland China under the brand name Titane windows and doors and are made from unplasticised polyvinyl chloride (uPVC), based on technology that originated in Europe in the mid-1960s. The company was formed in 1993, with its 70-worker factory located in southern China.

"When we bid for work in Hong Kong, we are competing against makers of aluminium windows, but in [mainland] China, we are competing against window and door products that are similar to our Titane range," Hu says.

Cost, durability and appearance are vital factors in the selection of building materials, but with the onset of an era when the wisest long-term decisions are also based on social and environmental considerations, Hu claims Titane products are clear winners.

"We took what was already a successful product in Europe and modified it slightly to make it more suited to Asian conditions," she says. Essentially, the modifications created a stronger window structure needed for high-rise buildings and a weatherproof seal with drainage that keeps rain out even in the most severe typhoon.

Aesthetically, Titane windows and doors have a modern, crisp look, but what is even more impressive, according to Hu, is that they last for more than 30 years with no fading or corrosion, creating instant savings on replacement costs when compared with steel or aluminium. Unlike wood, uPVC will not deteriorate from water or insect damage.

There are also benefits on the energy front. Titane windows cut energy costs by up to 30%, resulting in lower power bills and less strain on the environment.

Hu, who trained as an engineer, says additional strength and rigidity comes from steel reinforcement within the uPVC shell.

Other design benefits include the flexibility for interchangeable double and single glazing, and for offices and homes where noise is a problem, the many compartments within the hollow uPVC profiles provide sound reduction that is up to 70% better than aluminium.

Starform has been educating clients about the benefits of its product since it introduced the Titane uPVC range to the Hong Kong and mainland markets. "Our vision was to make the Titane windows and doors a brand name and to be the best producer of uPVC windows and doors," Hu says. To that end, Starform has clinched a series of important contracts in Hong Kong and the mainland, and is now considering opening a second factory in northern China.


STORAGE SUCCESS
Worldwide Marketing Partners Ltd.

WHEN Michael Frappier decided to set up a manufacturing and exporting company in Hong Kong, he was drawn to storage and organisation items for the home and office, a product base with which he was already familiar and had a consistently good track record.

"These are everyday functional products that sell year in year out. They're not seasonal items," says Frappier. "When new families set up households they need these products. Basically, they allow people to better organise their lives and create more time for leisure."

Frappier, together with his wife Leslie, established Worldwide Marketing Partners Ltd in 1994. Today the company has close to 3,000 products on its database and a strong customer base in the US and Europe.

Prior to setting up Worldwide, Frappier held executive positions with leading direct-marketing companies in the US and Canada. These positions gave him expertise in the field of storage and organisation items and an insider's understanding of the challenges faced by buyers.

Now that he has crossed over to the supply side of the market, he attributes much of Worldwide's success to finding solutions to meet the demands of customers. "Buyers want things to be exclusive but it becomes a competition to find something that is different. When an item is hot, buyers want to be able to make interesting changes to a product which will make it exclusive to them, and it's my job to fulfil that expectation," Frappier says.

The natural tones of wicker and rattan feature prominently in Worldwide's products. But to provide buyers with flexibility, much of the range is also duplicated in wood, chrome, brass and copper-plated wire, or combinations of wood, wicker and plated wire.

The products on display at the company's showroom include kitchen organisers and racks, bathroom caddies, shelving, wine racks and storage units, media units and laundry hampers.

According to Frappier, online technology has resulted in a surge in the number of home offices, and a big section of Worldwide's range is devoted to meeting demand in this area, including that for desktop organisers and filing cabinets. "Most people don't want steel furniture for their home offices. Given the choice they prefer warmer, low-tech products," he says.

Worldwide has a staff of 15 at its Hong Kong office and five employees overseeing its operations in mainland China, where the wicker- and rattan-weaving is subcontracted out to 3,000 workers. The other product lines consist of toys, gifts and sundry house wares.

The company started with the philosophy that if you take good care of your customers they will keep coming back. "When we help buyers satisfy their customers, we are generating return business," says Frappier, who regards discussions with clients as give-and-take creative sessions. "I'm never shy to give my opinion when discussing options with buyers," he adds.

To aid buyers who come to Hong Kong two or three times a year, Worldwide has recently set up a Web site (http://www.worldwidemp.com/) that includes a selection of its best-selling products.

Written by Marissa Lague

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