31 March 2005
Ongoing Success(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 04,2005)
Sea-God is yet another Hong Kong success story emerging from improbable beginnings. It started life as a small factory and has grown to become an internationally recognised manufacturer with an enviable customer base covering leading importer chains in the US and Europe.
"We started out in 1975 with just a handful of workers, selling hand-painted and framed copies of old masters, western-style landscapes, works of still life and traditional Chinese paintings," recalls manager Shirley Cheung.
She says it was painstaking attention to quality and prompt deliveries, supported by efficient after-sales services and ongoing contacts with customers, that helped the firm to grow during its early days. "Sea-God found a niche in overseas markets and gradually exploited it with consistent products and results and we have continued that gradual development and positive growth ever since," says Cheung.
"Apart from doing export business with a trading company at the beginning, we also developed business with some leading importers. We maintain good relations with them all, and many of our major clients have been doing business with us for at least a decade," she adds.
"We both treasure and nurture these regular customers, and do everything to remain as loyal to them as they are to us."
Cheung says the firm's main lines are photo/picture frames, followed by mirror frames and wall mouldings. "We have a rich variety of frames, ranging from traditional to lushly decorative embossed designs to the starkly modern or the simple elegance of plain frames in a choice of colours."
The same pattern styles apply to mouldings, which are sold by length. Being richly embossed, mostly in gold or silver patterns, these mouldings are ideal for framing the sort of classical paintings featured in museums and art galleries in the world's major cities.
Sea-God moved to Dongguan on the Chinese mainland in 1989 and set up a factory with about 200 workers. In 1999, in a wide-ranging reorganisation, the company expanded its factory to 300,000 square feet and increased the workforce to the current level of 500 - in addition to the staff in Hong Kong.
"We have a comparatively small workforce considering the average monthly output of around one million frames and mouldings," says Cheung. "That is due to the high degree of mechanisation we employ, which allows us to cope far better with the workload than depending on hands-on labour."
She reveals that a number of years ago, Sea-God invested several million Hong Kong dollars in Weinig frame-making machines from Germany and Makor finishing machines from Italy.
"These fully automatic, hi-tech machines virtually guarantee top quality material for frames and perfect 45?cuts to the required size of the frames, which are then nailed internally and glued to ensure seamless joints," explains Cheung.
Another big plus resulting from these machines is the physical burden they take off the workers. "We are very conscious of our social responsibility when conducting international sales," says Cheung. "Our biggest clients are highly conscious of the working conditions in the factories they buy from, and do not hesitate to implement physical inspections to confirm compliance with international standards."
She says that once buyers see for themselves that machines do virtually all the hard work at Sea-God's factory, half the battle to win new orders has been fought. "The other half, of course, is reaching agreement on price without compromising quality. It's a fine balancing act, but so far we've been able to manage it."
The manned production lines carry out woodworking, resin coating and assembly tasks, plus one of the most important jobs of all - the specialised packaging that ensures any glass or mirrors in the frames arrives unbroken.
"Generally, a customer will specify the type of packaging preferred - usually styrofoam or paper pallets - and I am happy to say that breakages are a very minor occurrence," says Cheung.
"Apart from the careful packing, shipment by container ensures safety because of the rigidity they provide for neatly-packed contents, enhanced by smooth handling between shore and ship," she adds.
Most of the containers Sea-God ships each month depart from the Shenzhen port of Yantian on the Chinese mainland, while the balance are shipped from Hong Kong.
Delivery times vary from 30-45 days, depending on whether the pattern requires new moulds. "The simplest and fastest jobs involve re-orders where old moulds can be used," says Cheung.
Sea-God has won many awards over the years and is ISO 9001-certified in addition to holding Worldwide Quality Assurance certificates. "We aim to stay in the picture for many years to come," Cheung promises.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Sea-God Art Co