6 June 2007
Flourishing Business(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 06,2007)
|Union Industrial (FE) Ltd is a successful manufacturer of artificial flowers and plants and a whole range of home decoration products|
The firm was established in 1978, and Chu points out it went on to become the first Hong Kong manufacturer of artificial flowers to gain ISO 9001 certification.
"We started with typical artificial flowers made from polyester and plastic," he recalls. "Most of the work, perhaps as much as 70%, was done by hand and so production was somewhat limited. However, we managed to sell our products in Europe and the US."
Chu was always conscious of the need to develop in terms of quality and design. "This is why, in the first instance, we aimed at ISO certification. We simply had to move out of the low-end to get away from the fierce competition," he says.
With ISO safely in place and production running smoothly, Chu turned his attention to more creative matters. "It was not hard to see that buyers wanted fresh ideas and designs," he says. "After all, buyers compete with each other and they too need an edge."
In response, Chu says he decided to hire top-tier designers, frequently from overseas, to ensure the firm's ability to bring out trendy creations year-on-year.
At the same time, he adds, the designers were aided by an ever-growing variety of raw materials becoming available. "For example, where polyester and plastic once ruled, today we have foam, EVA and PVC to work with," Chu points out. "Also, designers have a whole range of chemical treatments for special effects that enable them to be highly creative and produce flowers that reflect the needs of the modern market."
The manager directly selects several samples from the crammed shelves. "Here we have some typical products, and I am sure you can see how realistic they are and, at the same time, also very appealing and suitable for display in almost any setting."
Among the selection are a medium calla lily spray with a length of 78cm; a smaller calla lily spray that is 65cm in length, and a 40cm-high ginger torch on a wooden plate that is also available with a terracotta pot. There is also a single peony bud spray of 47cm length that is available in satin, while another design is a peony/peony bud/berries wreath with a diameter of 36cm. Meanwhile, for buyers looking for vines there are several models complete with cone-shaped metal frames and wooden pots.
Chu assures that there are many more designs to choose from. "We have whole forests of flowers," he smiles, "and we can supply them in many different formats including vases, glass containers, pots and wooden frames."
With the artificial flowers business long since flourishing, Union Industrial has also branched out into several related lines. "As a specialist in artificial flowers, often catering to the needs of home decoration buyers, we found that our knowledge of trends in home furnishings, glass containers and pots was growing fast," says Chu. "So in 2002, we started to introduce new products."
The new lines include wooden frames, potted flowers; handicrafts; trim and gift wrapping; decorative accessories; Christmas items; giftware and garden items and even aquarium accessories. "All those plus customers' own designs and specifications," Chu assures.
The firm's main customers are home decor counters in department stores, chain stores and even furniture stores. "We generally sell direct to these outlets rather than through agents or middlemen," says Chu, adding that about 60% of the goods go to Europe, 20% to the US, and the remainder to other markets such as South America and the Middle East.
"When it comes to meeting market needs we pull out all the stops," Chu insists. "For example, every year for the past five our team has visited buyers and fairs in Europe to gain firsthand knowledge of the trends."
There is also a noticeable evolution in buyer-profile. "The customer today is different from the customer of five years ago, and this is an indication of how quickly everything changes," Chu says. "It was once the case that the customer would not travel to Hong Kong, but today they not only come here but also want to tour factories on the mainland and seek out the best quality and prices."
In the case of Union Industrial, buyers are welcome to visit the firm's 300,000-square-foot, 1,000-worker plant in Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland. "We have many highly skilled workers and training is continual," Chu says. "Even artificial flower-making has an artistic edge, and demands the most skilled workforce available."
Union Industrial seems to indeed have a flourishing business that looks well-placed to bloom for years to come.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON
Union Industrial (FE) Ltd