1 April 2002
Desktop Humour(HKTDC Gifts, Premium & Stationery, Vol 02,2002)
Vol 2, 2002
All In The Details
Alpha Zone Ltd
|Funny and useful best sum up the design ethos at Alpha Zone Ltd, a stationery premiums manufacturer.|
ALTHOUGH Alpha Zone Ltd was only established two years ago, it can be said that the idea for its founding dates back to 1992 when its parent company, Shun Cheong Accessories Ltd, which specializes in metal hair-accessory premiums, opened its doors.
Shun Cheong's managing director Ricky Law saw a growing market for other types of gifts and premiums, and the result was a new independent company - Alpha Zone - that focused on stationery premium items ranging from name-card holders and metal clips to key-chains and photo frames. With several years of experience in metal design already in place at the time of Alpha's establishment, the transition to include stationery items in the production process was not difficult, says Alpha's assistant manager Wicky Hui.
Determined not to simply follow trends, Alpha aims for fresh designs. "Funny and useful" best sum up Alpha's image, says Hui. Model M1050 embodies these qualities. Although it functions as an ashtray, this aluminium model with anodized finish and zinc alloy stands was designed in the image of a baby's crib. It sells for US$1.60 each FOB Hong Kong.
At first glance model T1008 appears to be an ordinary tape dispenser but this zinc alloy and brass model, when folded up, makes an elegant desk decoration. Weighing 160 grams, the dispenser holds standard 3M tape and is priced at US$2 each.
But even the best design would not hold up well without the right material. Zinc alloy provides the shiny finish evident in many of Alpha's products, and comes in sharp contrast to the matte finish of electroplating.
Alpha plans to start using its main metals, comprising zinc alloy, iron, aluminium, brass and stainless steel, in innovative ways. Model M1050 is already an illustration of this as aluminium ashtrays are a rarity on the premiums market, according to Hui.
Alpha sources the materials from the Chinese mainland, Japan and South Korea. The company goes directly to the source rather than through suppliers, resulting in a 9-10% saving, estimates Hui.
About a hundred new designs - the majority of which are released just prior to the 3-4 annual exhibitions that Alpha participates in - come out of a 50,000-square-foot, 800-worker factory in Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland. Alpha produces an almost equal number of in-house and OEM designs. "This is how we want to keep it in future," says Hui.
Two in-house designers, based in Hong Kong, handle most of the design work, getting their inspiration from magazines and trade fairs, while a team of 10 at the mainland factory provides design back-up by focusing on die-cast injection techniques. Alpha recently purchased five die-cast injection machines to bring its total number of such machinery to more than 60.
Although Europe is Alpha's main market, the firm is targeting buyers in Japan and the US by participating in exhibitions. For example, Alpha exhibited in Los Angeles last year.
"We are keeping our design approach the same for all markets," says Hui. And no matter where the customer comes from, who can resist a useful little gadget with a sense of humour?
WRITTEN BY TAMARA CHEUNG
Alpha Zone Ltd
27/F, Units 1-2,Technology Plaza,
29-35 Sha Tsui Rd, Tsuen Wan,
New Territories, Hong Kong
Unisia (HK) Co Ltd
|Polyresin figurine manufacturer Unisia (HK) Co Ltd focuses on the smallest details, such as lines on the legs or muscles at the base of the throat of this fairy model.|
WHEN the lines of the leg and the muscles at the base of the throat of a polyresin figurine are clearly visible, to say it appears almost human is not an exaggeration.
And that is just what 18-year-old Unisia (HK) Co Ltd strives for - "human" or extremely detailed designs. All of Unisia's polyresin figurines are handmade and hand-painted. Workers at its factories in Quanzhou and Xiamen on the Chinese mainland are trained to work on individual parts of a product only. A few very experienced workers get to handle the eyes and lips. Sample models are put on the production line and inspectors regularly inspect products on line.
Model 222822, selling for US$4.42 FOB Hong Kong, depicts a fairy and a horse. A special design touch that Unisia has been adding to its polyresin figurines since the middle of last year is glitter, added to the fairy's wings. The wings are first painted with glue water and glitter is then sprinkled on.
Soft pastel colours dominate in this fairy model, as they do throughout Unisia's polyresin line. The polyresin products are largely decorative but this company, with a monthly production of US$1.5m worth of polyresin products and porcelain dolls, is about to expand its horizons. Although North, Central and South America are its main markets, Unisia also has its eye on Europe.
This will, however, mean creating a complete new line, says marketing manager Ruby Chan. "We need higher-quality, higher-standard products. Our current product line is only for decoration but now we want to look at making products that are more useful," she says. Jewellery boxes and containers are just a few items that Unisia is looking to produce. Design ideas have been in the works since March and the first of these models are expected to make their debut in Frankfurt in August. Chan is aiming to export 60% of products to the US and the rest to Europe by the end of 2003.
Using better materials is one way Unisia is also planning to upgrade its products. Polyresin is already directly sourced from Taiwan, the Chinese mainland and South Korea. "We will try to mix the proportions of the resin better," says Chan.
The move to expand its product line and improve quality was prompted by increased competition from the mainland, says Chan. Unisia now produces evenly between high-end and lower-end products, but aims to drive up the percentage of high-end goods to 70%.
Attention to detail does not end with the product itself but extends to Unisia's packaging. Products are divided into different levels, with the better-quality ones ending up in the most elegant boxes. Nevertheless, all boxes are made of strong polyfoam and feature product photos.
With all these production and design plans in the making, it might come as a surprise that five years ago Unisia was still a trading company outsourcing its manufacturing. At that time market conditions led Unisia to change its focus.
"Pure trading companies started finding it hard to survive so we had to restructure," says Chan. This time around, the company is betting on upgrading quality to help it maintain its edge in the market.
WRITTEN BY TAMARA CHEUNG
Unisia (HK) Co Ltd
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