1 Aug 2003
Tech Play(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 08,2003)
A Paper Chase
Asia Trading Co
|These frames from Asia Trading Co are as pretty as the pictures they hold|
Hi-tech communications links keep the Hong Kong-based headquarters - or "think tank" - of picture-frame maker Asia Trading Co in constant touch with its factory in Dongguan on the Chinese mainland. The task is to fine tune designs and upgrade production methods for a monthly output of 2.8 million items.
Explains marketing manager Alex Lee, son of founder Lee Shung, "In these tight economic times, we call on a range of hi-tech tools to save time and speed up production. This gives us a small edge over our competitors that we are able to pass on to customers in the form of lower prices."
The trump card among Lee's hi-tech wizardry is a video conferencing link between company headquarters in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, and the mainland factory.
"From Hong Kong, our top people in design, development and marketing - the people who know the latest buying trends and who have their fingers on the pulse of the market - attend these video conferences," he says.
"In Dongguan, experts from support teams in these fields hear our views and discuss with us the practicalities of our proposals. Ideas get kicked around from side to side, with a change here or a modification there, until eventually what started out as an idea becomes a new concept," he adds.
The teams in Dongguan then work on finalising the design before sending it by email to Hong Kong, where again it is closely scrutinised to see if other improvements are possible. "That's how hi-tech has helped us keep our market share," says Lee.
He recalls that it was 1969 when his father began manufacturing picture frames in a small factory with about 30 workers. That was in Kwai Chung, in Hong Kong, a place later to become the site of the world's busiest container port.
In the late 1980s, the elder Lee joined the exodus of Hong Kong factory owners to the mainland, leasing a 350,000-square-foot plot only about 30 minutes by road from the border. That factory now employs, houses, feeds, doctors and cares for some 1,300 workers.
Production is divided into two categories: classic designs in everyday demand all over the world, and novelty frames for specific purposes like weddings, births and Christmas. There are also other specialty frames for religious occasions, birthdays and even Halloween.
The frames come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are generally of aluminium but with many types of finishes such as brass or - for engagement and wedding pictures - silver. In some cases, crystal adds further lustre. Other high quality frames are made of epoxy, while cheaper products are made of polyresin and medium-density fibre.
The company is always looking for new markets and new products. It hopes to gain market share in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, and has just completed an attractive line of novelty frames for babies' photographs that it hopes will become another bestseller.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Asia Trading Co
Unit 401, Tower II,
South Seas Centre,
75 Mody Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
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