6 April 2005
Pride & Value(HKTDC Houseware, Vol 02,2005)
There are pots and pans, knives and forks, dishes and cooking utensils and a host of related products ... and they're all neatly displayed across a generous space many people would be happy to have as a living unit.
"This collection goes back more than 20 years to 1981, when I launched the company," recalls managing director Terry Chan.
Then, producing two very special items from among the display shelves - a stainless steel egg cup and a shiny ice-cream cup - he adds: "These represent my first big breakthrough as, very early on, I won an order for 300,000 egg cups followed by 150,000 ice-cream cups from a German importer. We only had a handful of workers in those days, and it took us six months to complete the order - but it certainly put the company on its feet."
The German connection has been a lucky one for Chan. In 2000, for example, he received his biggest order to date - a job lot for 2.5 million pots and pans to be used by a German chain in a promotional offer. "That order kept us very busy for about four months," smiles Chan.
"We began operations in leased, 2,000-square-foot factory premises," he adds. "However, by 1987 business was going so well that we decided to move to Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland, where we now occupy 240,000 square feet of land, have three three-storey factory buildings and quarters for 1,200 workers." In addition, Camford's cookware is made in a joint-venture factory in Nanhai on the mainland.
The company has an international clientele, from almost every country across Europe (including Russia) plus North America, Asia (from Japan to Indonesia) and Australasia.
Camford's products are also featured regularly on a top US TV programme for housewives, and Chan firmly believes that the US is where his best hopes lie for future expansion.
"Most American housewives are very house-proud and love to have matched sets of utensils in their kitchens," he says. "They also want top quality household products and are prepared to pay for them."
To cater for this prestige market, Camford launched a special line of cookware about 10 years ago, adding gold handles and holders. "Combined with the mirror finish of the pots, pans and other items, the gold trim results in a very elegant appearance. Importantly, these items are still very popular in the US," says Chan.
Camford doesn't supply any of the giant US shopping chains "because our quality is way above the cheaper items they usually stock", says Chan. "True, those outlets move lots of kitchen equipment that tends to look quite attractive on the shelf. However, a lot of it is made from inferior steel and the shine may soon disappear once an item is used in the kitchen."
By contrast, he says, Camford products last a lifetime if used properly. "The secret is in the steel," he says. "It must have a nickel content of more than 8% to guarantee long usage, which is why we buy steel in rolls from Japan, Germany and Korea that measure from 0.4-3mm in thickness."
He believes that some competitors buy cheap steel from exporters in India, but that the nickel content may be just 4% or less, resulting in products rusting very easily.
"The best test is always the simplest ... just pick up a pot or pan and weigh it in your hands. If it's light, then it's made from thin metal and will have only a short life. Ours are always heavy - some of them quite heavy because they're made of three layers of metal: stainless steel on the outside and inside and aluminium in the middle," he claims.
The shiny mirror finish of stainless steel comes from polishing, which is done either by machine or, for the critical angles such as the inside of a spoon, by hand. "Most customers want mirror-finish products, but a few prefer matt ... it's their choice," says Chan. "However, when a polished finish is maintained it's always hygienic."
Camford increasingly depends on machines - sourced on the mainland or imported from Taiwan and Korea - for stamping, welding, soldering and polishing. "It's becoming increasingly hard to hold staff these days," says Chan. "After about 5-6 years on the job, most usually return to their home cities or counties to marry and settle down, using their savings as a nest egg."
Asked for a closing comment, Chan says: "We are a forward-looking firm with old-fashioned values: we take pride in our work and the services we offer our clients."
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Camford Housewares Mfg Ltd
1/F, Lin Fung Centre,