7 Dec 2004
Umbrellas(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 12,2004)
Singing In The Rain
Traditional styles are still going strong and demand is increasing overseas for Chinese-style oilpaper umbrellas, according to Nelson Umbrella Co Ltd marketing executive Vivian Fung.
This firm also produces children's and beach umbrellas, as well as lightweight folding styles and the cases and covers to go with them. "Our most popular model at present is the golf umbrella, usually in dark colours," says Fung.
Europeans and Americans prefer bigger-sized, plain umbrellas, while people in Hong Kong and Japan like smaller, lightweight models with logos and patterns.
"In Japan, especially, umbrellas are seen as fashion items, and we look to that market for new ideas. If there's a new style there, we'll have it in Hong Kong soon after," Fung claims.
Founded in 1983, Nelson Umbrella produces 9,000 dozen umbrellas each month at its factory on the Chinese mainland. Minimum order size is 500 umbrellas and delivery is 35-45 days after order confirmation. Prices depend on styles and quantities ordered.
Access Enterprise Co also offers the popular golf umbrella. "These umbrellas account for about 70% of our business," says sales and marketing manager Denny Hui.
Design varies according to the market, he adds. "Our US customers prefer simple styles with large logos. Europeans, on the other hand, like to have a design across the whole surface of the umbrella."
Hui says that while some customers use their own designers, Access Enterprise has an in-house team available to work with clients and ensure their logos and corporate colours are well placed. "Also, quality is improving all the time," says Hui, pointing to the increasing use of fibreglass for umbrella ribs.
Once designs are chosen, customers usually demand high quality printing. "We have in-house printing facilities, a feature not offered by all umbrella factories," claims Hui, emphasising the importance of quality control.
Access Enterprise's 120 workers produce 200,000 umbrellas each month, specialising in advertising and promotional styles. FOB Hong Kong unit prices range from US$1-5.
Meanwhile, Rain Power Ltd general manager Emily Lo says the firm prefers to concentrate on mid- to high-end products. "So we need to be very aware of the quality of the fabrics we use," she says. "We also import top quality aluminium from Taiwan and Japan, to make sure our umbrellas will last and not break easily."
Founded in 1995, Rain Power manufactures under its own Happy Rain brand name and supplies umbrellas to leading brands including Esprit, Benetton, Bossini and Giordano, Lo claims.
Although clients sometimes supply design ideas themselves, Rain Power's team of in-house designers follows fashion trends very closely. They are especially interested in working with the latest colours for shoes and handbags. "At the moment, we're seeing a lot of purple, orange and deep red," says Lo.
The firm has offices in Hong Kong and uses three mainland factories to produce 450,000 umbrellas each month. Minimum order size is 1,500 umbrellas per colour and deliveries are made 75 days after order confirmation. FOB Hong Kong prices depend on order size and quality, but generally range from US$11-12 per dozen up to US$65 per dozen.
Umbrella customers are not just fashion-conscious and health issues are starting to affect the industry, with demand growing especially in Asia and Australia for coatings that include UV protection.
Sinobest Umbrella Mfg Co marketing manager Patrick Yu says even customers from cooler climates are starting to look for protection from the sun. "Demand from European markets for multifunction umbrellas has grown over the past few years," he says, adding that Europe is the firm's main market and the 23-inch model is most popular.
Yu says the market is increasingly competitive and this is driving prices down. "We believe this is because of better communications and the Internet as customers can more easily shop around and compare prices and styles," he says.
Sinobest produces 20,000 dozen umbrellas each month at its ISO 9001-certified mainland factory. Minimum order size is 1,200 umbrellas and deliveries are made 30 days after order confirmation. FOB Hong Kong unit prices start at US$1, while designs using lightweight aluminium cost slightly more at US$1.20-1.30.
Hong Kong umbrella manufacturers can certainly provide the choices customers are looking for: big or small, heavy or lightweight, waterproof or UV-protected, you will be well covered.
WRITTEN BY SUZANNE MOORE
Hua Yu Umbrella (HK) Co
Wing Tat Trading Enterprise Ltd
Yu Lung Umbrellas Co Ltd