15 April 2008
Dynamic Duo(HKTDC Gifts, Premium & Stationery, Vol 02,2008)
Tougher labour and environmental protection laws in Shenzhen may be the scourge of many factory owners, but Promotional Bags Mfr Ltd Managing Director Janet Cham positively welcomes them.
She says many of her competitors undercut hfer firm's prices by cutting corners and disregarding both workers' rights and China's environmental policies.
"But now they have to change their whole working patterns, match our standards and catch up with us," Ms Cham observes. "We don't have any of these issues because we've always followed the rules, and set a few more of our own."
Promotional Bags has employed the same pool of workers for 20 years, nearly all of them females, she notes. "They started with us in 1988 as teenagers and just keep coming back after first returning to their villages to marry and after leaving a second time to have their babies," Ms Cham explains.
Now, she says, the staff regard the firm's factory in Ping Huan Industrial City in Shenzhen as their second home. "We've always treated them right - clean and comfortable living quarters, three meals a day and a clinic to maintain their health," Ms Cham claims.
Co-owner of the business with husband Benny Lai, Ms Cham recalls that Promotional Bags initially employed 200 staff, but gradually expanded the workforce to 500 and the factory to about 50,000 square feet as business picked up.
"Recruiting was never a problem because staff members brought in relatives and friends, and there was always a waiting list," Ms Cham adds. "Most of our staff is female because nimble fingers are required for bag-making - especially where intricate stitching is involved - which just isn't men's work."
She should know as she was "born" to the bag business, her father having owned a handbag factory in Yuen Long in Hong Kong's New Territories, where she spent much of her time as a teenager learning the ropes.
"But my father closed the factory and retired in 1985, and after graduation I spent two years with the Hong Kong Customs and Excise department," Ms Cham recollects.
Gravitating to a trading company where she met her future husband, they went into business together in 1988, eventually launching their own Promotional brand.
"We established our own production line in 1991 in order to secure a stronger market share," Ms Cham explains, adding that the ISO 9001-certified factory also ensures product quality by following its own internal inspection procedures as well as those of its clients.
The Shenzhen plant produces 800,000 bags a month, manufacturing and exporting all kinds of promotional, premiums and sports bags, travel bags, backpacks, cosmetics bags, cooler bags, school bags, handbags and wallets.
"We manufacture in a wide variety of materials, including nylon, polyester, PVC, cotton and satin," Ms Cham explains.
"Our customers are exporters, importers, department stores and promotion agents."
The duo is very hopeful about one of its newest products, a foldable seat-bucket bag that is handy to sit on, useful for carrying small items and easy to fold and store.
The bag is available in a variety of innovative designs, including national flags and even footballs, that reflect the couple's commitment to their craft.
"My husband and I are just crazy about bags," Ms Cham admits. "Whether we're travelling to trade fairs or just walking through shopping malls in Hong Kong we're always bag-spotting, looking for new trends and different styles that can be adapted to the bag trade."
They then pass their ideas to their R&D team in Shenzhen, which prepares the initial mock-ups and tweaks the design until everybody is satisfied - including Promotional Bags's global customers. "Our markets are pretty much worldwide," Ms Cham notes. "Europe takes 40% of our output, North America 30%, and the rest is distributed throughout Asia, South America and Australasia."
She maintains that the company's customers are like its staff - they just keep coming back. "Not all the time, because one year they may be specialising in other promotional items like pens or pads, but about every five years they return to bags and quite often just want minor variations to their original design," Ms Cham explains.
Which is the ultimate tribute to any business and a fitting vindication of the Promotional Bag Mfr Ltd motto, which Ms Cham says is "Endless enthusiasm, endless hard work".
TEXT BY GEOFFREY SOMERS