6 Jan 2005
Catering To The Best(HKTDC Gifts, Premium & Stationery, Vol 01,2005)
Actwin Mfg Co
"We are proud of having such multinational and international customers," she adds. "These prestige buyers are very important for our image as, naturally, there is a knock-on effect among other would-be customers. It helps a lot with marketing."
Chow says most of Actwin's products fall into the promotional/premiums sector, ranging from all manner of bags and backpacks to baseball caps and cushion covers, CD holders, lanyards and many other items that are easily branded.
There are also key chains, mirrors and small plastic promotional items, while one out-of-the-ordinary item is a drinks' cooler on wheels that is popular for picnics and barbecues.
Turning to women's bags, Chow finds that large handbags and totes are now out of fashion, and that the trend is toward smaller, neater bags. "Ladies today don't want to carry heavy bags - if something's too heavy to carry then it should be on wheels," she says.
An original product from Actwin is a plastic key ring light to help motorists find the car's ignition switch - that is just as useful for illuminating front door latches. These key rings are made from padded plastic that is pleasant to the touch, come in various shapes such as cars or houses and measure about two inches square.
Another smart promotional idea is a range of small pad-like wipers called screen cleaners to quickly remove the dust that constantly accumulates on computer screens, mobile phone screens or camera lenses. Both the key ring and the wiper are ideal as premiums.
Apart from a handful of sales staff in Hong Kong, Actwin employs about 100 workers at its two factories in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone on the Chinese mainland. The older of the two plants produces Actwin's mainstream plastic products, leaving the new one to concentrate on handmade items.
When the company was launched in 1992, it quickly set up its first factory in Shenzhen while simultaneously building markets in the US and Europe. Sales now take in Japan and Southeast Asia as well.
"Building and maintaining new markets just keeps getting more difficult," says Chow. "One of the most important factors is the economy of the target country, but no matter whether it is rising or falling, the buyers always press for lower prices."
Actwin must constantly devise new product lines to keep its customers satisfied. "Design is our biggest challenge," says Chow. "We're always being asked for something new and different that will catch on with trendy young buyers."
Sometimes, old customers come back with only vague ideas on what they want. Chow says she will usually sit them down with design co-ordinators and technicians who work up initial sketches that are often very different - but far more practical and attractive - than the original concept.
"But there's a catch to all this revising and fine-tuning of designs," she says. "The most important factor remains the customer's budget, and so the prototype product drawn up must not exceed that level of cost."
Sometimes, requests for certain products come by email, with the following discussions then taking place via the Internet. After the design is agreed, either a mock-up sample or a photograph of the proposed item will then be sent to the client for final approval.
"Negotiating can be a painstaking process, especially when messages are moving to and fro on the Internet," says Chow. "But there is a lot of satisfaction afterward, when the product catches on in the market and we know we've got another big seller. That's what is so exciting about the gifts and premiums business, you never know what the next order will be for or what huge orders it might eventually generate. It's never boring."
However, she is coy about naming Actwin's biggest deals, stating merely that, "When dealing with multi-nationals as we do, one must respect client confidentiality."
Chow says Actwin's strategy for success is to manufacture a quality product and provide rapid follow-up services. "We have a reputation for being quick to respond," she says.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Actwin Mfg Co
Unit 527, Phase 2,