A Long-Term Lesson
The leap from OEM to marketing its own brand was a quantum jump for Chekiang Metalware Fty Co Ltd, and one that serves as a good example to other companies trying to do the same.
"We hit on a great brand name, Hyperlux, which blends perfectly with our high quality chrome products that are mainly connected with the food and beverage industry. Items such as tea, coffee, cream and sugar sets, chafing fishes, trays, bowls, salt and pepper shakers, butter dishes, ice-cream bowls, elegant fluted vases and some premium lines," explains director of sales and marketing Louisa Tse.
However, she reveals that the firm's great leap forward into independent production in 1999 led to a long and tough transition period. "Chekiang had been a contract and OEM manufacturer for more than 30 years," she recalls. "Our products were on sale throughout most of the Western world, but under other companies' brand names."
Accordingly, she feels, while well aware of the firm's abilities and its reputation for good quality and reliability, would-be customers initially shunned the new brand. "A typical reaction would be that the goods were great but the brand unknown... with the suggestion we come back when we were more established," says Tse ruefully.
Tse says she then embarked on a multi-barrelled publicity and promotional drive. "We attended local, regional and overseas trade fairs, where our products simply stood out," she says. "We were not just the shiniest, but also the best. We advertised extensively, and we promoted ourselves within the trade and anywhere else when an opportunity arose."
Finally, the breakthroughs came. "We had small successes at first, until business steadily built up and we were able to deal with a regular, established customer base," Tse smiles.
Some five years on, Hyperlux has become a well-established brand helping to consolidate Chekiang's position in the market.
"We do best in markets such as the US, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and Southeast Asia," says Tse. "We are also looking for other opportunities, perhaps in Russia and Eastern Europe."
Tse's father launched Chekiang in 1960, in the then-industrial district of Tokwawan in Hong Kong. He had a strong technical background and lots of drive and ambition, she says, and with his initial workforce of 80 concentrated first on producing hydraulic machinery and tools.
"Later, as the business prospered, my father branched into what was to become our main line - high quality, stainless steel tabletop items and buffet products."
With the company's reputation growing over the years, Chekiang expanded into a full range of F&B products. In the 1980s, it moved to a self-owned 140,000-square-foot factory in Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland.
Today's workforce of about 600 includes a dedicated R&D team staffed by 12 graduates in either design or engineering-related subjects.
There is also a training officer to pass on production expertise to newcomers to the factory floor, and a very demanding QC section ready to reject any item with the faintest blemish.
The firm has a novel way of repaying employees for their contribution to its success, and is now building a model factory that will be nearly three times larger than the present premises.
"It will also be much more spacious for employees, so that while the workforce will remain about the same size their living quarters will be larger and more comfortable," says Tse. The new factory, due to be opened in January 2006, is also in Shenzhen.
One problem faced by Chekiang, and others, is copycats. "They copy your products and undercut your prices, but the quality is poor and the follow-up service unreliable," says Tse.
"When F&B ware is in constant use, the need for quality is essential. It doesn't take long for buyers of cheap copycat goods to find out that by getting what they thought was a bargain they have actually made an expensive mistake."
Tse is highly optimistic, pointing out that Chekiang has won several awards for its tabletop and service-ware, and most of its buffet items are NSF-listed (National Sanitary Foundation).
"Our Hyperlux buffetware collection is our signature line and, with the new brand now widely recognized in the trade, I believe its best years are still to come."
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Chekiang Metalware Fty Co Ltd