6 Jan 2005
Keep On Moving(HKTDC Gifts, Premium & Stationery, Vol 01,2005)
Snowman Int'l Ltd
Wong says it is essential to stay one jump ahead of competitors and those tempted to copy his ideas and undercut his prices. "In today's market, one simply must keep moving ahead with new, marketable products," he says. "The situation has changed forever from the days when a manufacturer could make what he wanted and rely upon overseas agents to find buyers."
Wong also believes that the single most important factor affecting business today is keeping apace with the Internet. "The Internet has virtually eliminated the time-lag factors of old, and gets ideas and designs onto clients' desks long before copycats can try to steal them," he says.
Today, Wong is sole proprietor of Snowman Int'l Ltd and Snowman Tin Packaging Mfy Ltd, which began as a small, family concern in 1978, employing his parents, sister and a few relatives. Wong left school at 15 to provide another pair of willing hands.
"We produced small, simple novelty items in plastic and metal," recalls Wong. "We eventually hit a winning streak by concentrating on promotional products and by establishing ourselves with buyers in the US and Europe."
By 1983, the company had expanded and moved to a larger factory in Hong Kong - premises Snowman still owns but now leases out - and had 30 workers on the payroll.
The inevitable move to the Chinese mainland came in 1986. "We set up a plastics factory in Shenzhen adjoining Hong Kong, where we today employ 150 workers," says Wong. "The metalwork division is now distributed between Guangzhou and Dongguan, and has 400 on the payroll, while Snowman's Hong Kong headquarters employs 35 key personnel."
Wong says he realised in the mid-1990s that the market was evolving into one of constant change, and that R&D was an absolute must. He recalls how he began looking for talented university graduates with strong skills in engineering, design and tooling, and recruited not just from universities in Guangdong Province but also from Hunan, Shanghai and other distant cities.
That pool of imaginative young minds is now a key element in Snowman's output of trend-setting new products, and the imaginative CEO, who bubbles over with original ideas and who for many years was the company's top innovator, keeps the R&D team on its toes.
Premium items in plastic and metal remain the company's main products, while it also has developed a highly successful range of attractively decorated tin boxes for biscuits, chocolates and candies, tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, wine and liquor, plus other tin products for schoolchildren like pencil cases, lunchboxes and money boxes. Some of the designs depict classic themes and many are collectors' items.
One of the firm's biggest individual orders called for nine million key chains in the shape of a cute, two-wheeled skateboard attractively decorated with the logo of the purchaser: the giant US milk products company, Xtreme Flavors.
"The order was not simply for one shot of nine million gross, and we had to guarantee production of 100,000 key chains a day for 90 days," Wong recalls. "But we did it - and even received a bonus for finishing the order early."
Other impressive orders include three million tobacco tins with a racing-car motif for Kool cigarettes (to be supplied within 60 days), and 2.3 million key rings for the US Air Force.
Snowman also devised a very original bottle-opener for the new millennium, with the "2" of the figures 2000 forming the "teeth" of the opener. Appropriately, two million of these were produced and sold in Europe, especially Germany. The company followed up with updated openers for 2002, 2003 and 2004 respectively, selling several hundred thousand of each year's new design.
Wong attributes Snowman's ongoing success to providing what customers want across the board: from perfecting designs to producing high quality products at low cost and in the shortest time possible.
He rates the US and Europe as the firm's best markets for the future, and is wary of big ambitions in the mainland arena because of ever-changing export duties, tax laws and other regulations.
Noting that the company has won several first prizes in Hong Kong awards competitions - plus a "first" in Australia - Wong says he no longer enters such competitions: "There is too much other work to do," he laughs.
WRITTEN BY GEOFRREY SOMERS
Snowman Int'l Ltd