10 April 2008
Trading In Trays(HKTDC Houseware, Vol 02,2008)
Sometimes, a manufacturer produces an item that simply keeps on selling year in and year out. This is the case with Kai Hing Metal Products Fty Co Ltd, a 30-year specialist in silver- and chrome-plated serving trays.
Kai Hing offers a broad range of some 800 different tray designs, made from zinc-iron or 18/10 stainless steel. Employing sophisticated craftsmanship and handiwork, the firm's trays are very popular throughout the Middle East, in addition to sales in the US and Europe.
"We started out as a small-sized metal products factory working mostly on an OEM basis for the domestic market," relates Sales Manager Derek Ng. "We moved to Dongguan in 1990, and during the following seven years our exports began to grow." Later, he adds, another factory was set up to handle the formerly subcontracted electroplating processes.
"We manufacture our metal serving trays in several different finishes," he adds. "Most popular are our silver-, chrome- and nickel-plated models, while in metallic-finished colours the brown, green and gold versions sell well."
All trays are tarnish-resistant and feature a hard lacquer application that, the firm claims, will last for 20 years. FOB Hong Kong unit prices range from US$0.50-0.80 at the low end to US$20 or more for a sophisticated high-end model.
At the high end, Kai Hing produces trays plated with 24K gold. "Simply give these trays a wash and they quickly regain their wonderful golden glow again," says Mr Ng, adding that such special trays are sold on a full TEU per item per destination basis.
Demand for Kai Hing's trays is particularly strong in the Middle East. "Some 80% of our business is conducted there," says Mr Ng. "Everything we sell turns around the fact that, in Muslim cultures, serving trays are widely used to entertain guests at home and customers in shops. There might be a tray for the teapot and cups, another for fruit and yet another for, say, chocolates and desserts."
Plenty of choice
This explains in part why the firm has amassed a collection of more than 800 different models. "These are available with a choice of more than 200 different pairs of handles and about 1,000 different engraved designs," Mr Ng smiles.
Buyers from the Middle East usually seek out engraved patterns of flowers or abstract geometric designs because of cultural rules that do not allow animal faces or religious images. "There are design limitations that a company not servicing the Islamic region regularly may not be aware of," says Mr Ng.
In the Muslim world, though, there are different tastes, he adds. "Saudi Arabia, for example, is conservative and they do not even accept flowers, and so Islamic patterns and mosaics are preferred. Egypt, on the other hand, is more liberal, while other places always want a better price."
Despite sharp prices, though, business with several markets in the Middle East is thriving. "We have good demand for very basic trays from one particular country that places orders for 15-16 TEUs a year," says Mr Ng, adding that these trays are low-cost versions. "They sell for US$3.00-4.50 each, and the designs are well accepted."
Things are also good in Egypt. "Despite the average income there being fairly low, about US$50-100 per month, we sell trays destined for Egypt at around US$18 each. They are used mostly as wedding gifts, we believe," says Mr Ng.
With three decades of experience in the business, Kai Hing has amassed a large client list. "It was not always the case, of course," says Mr Ng. "We used to work through trading companies, like most small factories. Then, six or seven years ago, buyers started to go direct to the Chinese mainland and so we were able to deal with them directly."
Having such well-known products does not deter Kai Hing from publicising its activities. "We still go to the major household trade fairs and exhibit at the Chicago Fair and Frankfurt Fair every year," says Mr Ng. "However, our main focus is on the Hong Kong trade fairs that we attend."
Kai Hing has its own R&D and design teams in addition to an engineering group in the tooling department. "Trays can be flat, shallow or deep," says Mr Ng, "and all of our moulds are made in-house. We also have a sophisticated stamping process and use high quality stainless steel from Japan and Korea. Our technicians are highly skilled and know everything there is to know about working in metals."
Trays from Kai Hing are also bought for use in international hotels in Europe and the US. "They buy our stainless steel trays for hygiene and safety reasons," Mr Ng says, adding that the company is confident of maintaining its position as a leading supplier for many years to come.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON