3 July 2007
Form & Function(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 07,2007)
|The Red A brand name represents a wide range of quality plastic goods from Star Industrial Co Ltd|
Its Red A brand name is famous the world over, and 1949-established Star Industrial Co Ltd also enjoys an envious reputation for consistent quality and insistence on perfect form and function for its huge range of plastic household goods.
The largest such manufacturer in Hong Kong, where the firm continues to carry out all of its production processes, Star Industrial has a catalogue bulging with more than 600 items in the general houseware, kitchenware, catering and restaurant supply categories, in addition to office products, heavy-duty containers, component parts and medical containers.
"We started out making plastic toothbrushes, but that line ceased about 25 years ago," recalls director and financial manager Daisy Leung. "At about that time, we introduced the Ace brand name that eventually became a red letter A and our present logo and brand."
It was not, however, all plain sailing. "We struggled for some 10-15 years as most Hong Kong plastics manufacturers moved their plants to the Chinese mainland to take advantage of lower production costs and thus either more competitive selling prices or higher margins or both," Leung explains.
Happily, the Red A brand was able to survive. "We had a different approach," she continues. "Coupling quality, form and function, we started to produce plastic buckets with a difference. While others simply provided plastic containers, we built to certain standards. We stated clearly that all the materials were FDA rateable and indicated the holding capacity or volume and so forth and presented all the information to our customers. Call it transparency, but we found that our competitors could not match it while our customers were delighted with it."
As a result, she says, the approach to buying plastic household products today is rather different to what it was 10-15 years ago. "Customers now ask up front about the quality rather than the price," Leung advises. "They want to know what standards we follow and if we can meet European and/or US requirements."
She points also to the firm's successful record in the Japan market. "Although we sell worldwide, the Japan market is very important to us. It is also a highly demanding one, where quality is a prime concern."
Star Industrial also chooses to sell at the high end of the market. "We must differentiate ourselves, and one way is to offer superior products using 100% virgin plastics, with no recycled materials, which is not easy for lower-end producers either in Hong Kong or on the Chinese mainland," Leung says. "We also find that quality products soon find their niche, and that it is usually a lasting one."
Expansion and diversification has led to a series of medical products currently supplied to the Hong Kong government among others. "These are bottles used with automatic pill filling machines," Leung reveals. "They use UV- and moisture-resistant plastic.
Another interesting medical-related product is a tablet cutter box. "The knife is made of a hard plastic, a polycarbonate," Leung advises. "We have a patent on this item, and it is a good seller. However, when we first launched it on the market, it took time for people to recognise its usefulness."
Star Industrial also produces a line of microwave-compatible containers. "We were the first in Hong Kong to make microwave-compatible products," says Leung with pride. "We are also fully transparent about all the tests, such as temperature ratings. In addition, our kitchen utensils line is for the home and for restaurants, and we produce to meet FDA criteria."
The company also manufactures a wide range of industrial containers, a series of fire-retardant garbage cans in wide use in hotels, and bathroom items. "Not all are new products, but old or new our lines generally sell very well," enthuses Leung, adding that it is sometimes difficult selling to the domestic Hong Kong market because many retail shops are small and congested. "So we also sell on the Web."
The company will continue to edge more toward houseware and medical lines. "We will also focus more on catering and restaurant products for which we have many enquiries. We also look forward to making more complex and challenging items."
OEM activity is comparatively low. "I suppose it is due to our culture and the way we survived by belief in our own products," Leung says. "At one time, we did as much as 30% of business on an OEM basis. The figure is lower today, but we will happily accept OEM projects."
Always taking an individual approach, Star Industrial continues to manufacture in Hong Kong. "We have our own 250,000-square-foot plant housing main plastic-injection and blow-moulding machines," says Leung. "Most products are made using injection-moulding techniques, while the medical items employ blow-moulding."
Production takes place under the expert supervision of a professional staff of 250. Two specialist designers handle houseware and the engineering department decides on the final design for heavy-duty containers. "We are wholly vertically integrated and everything is done in-house, including art work and advertising," Leung proclaims.
Needless to say, all products have to undergo a battery of tests and quality control procedures, some by independent laboratories. "Many of our products are sent out for certain tests - it is part of our total commitment," she adds.
The large Red A clearly symbolises a dedicated approach to the production of quality plasticware.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON
Star Industrial Co Ltd