22 June 2006
Versatile & Flexible(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 07,2006)
Tombo Industries Co Ltd
Proving that versatility and flexibility frequently go hand-in-hand, Tombo Industries Co Ltd produces a kaleidoscope of products encompassing badge reels, tape measure holders, carabiner pull reels, key chains, mobile phone holders, memo clip holders and paper stands.
"Basically, our main focus is in retractable cord pull reels, combination padlocks and key chains," enthuses president Ben Choi. "But with cross-over functions, these lines are diversified by different designs, shapes, sizes and colours."
Tombo was established in 1997, but Choi says he has been in the industry for more 20 years and has seen various lines evolve.
"For example, the development of pull reels has always been dictated by function," he explains. "They first gained popularity when used with key rings, then for securing corporate identity cards and most recently for iPods, MP3 players and GameBoy systems."
Tombo also has more innovative uses for pull reels. "We have a metal bottle opener with pull reel; several pull reel pens much in demand by the hospitality industry; a pitchfork pull reel aimed at golfers, and an ashtray pull reel that is perfect for people who smoke," Choi says.
He stresses that design innovation is an essential ingredient of Tombo's success, and that it offers about 100 new styles a year - for both its own lines and designs created exclusively for specific buyers.
"We are very keen to introduce original ideas, as a brand-new design promises a longer product life and a better price," Choi says, citing the example of the firm's carabiner pull reel.
"We were among the first to combine the functions of a carabiner with a pull reel, and to obtain the patent rights in Europe, the US and the Chinese mainland," he states.
"The market response has been overwhelming and, even today, with copycat items flooding the market, our carabiner pull reel is still one of our best-selling items."
Another new design is a pull reel flashlight. "Simply pulling the cord activates the encased LEDs," says Choi. "This well-received idea has now been adapted into key chains, badge holders and mobile phone holders."
Tombo has also developed a pull reel product designed to hold a cell phone. "Usually, a pull reel cord retracts automatically," Choi explains. "With this version, we have a special button to regulate the length of the cord as it is pulled. This idea is excellent for securing heavier items, and the pull reel can still be used around the neck."
Another novel approach by Tombo is combining old and new elements into new items. Choi says the firm's Multi-Keyring series is a typical example.
"Our Multi-Keyring design comes with a track that allows individual keys to easily slide out and be locked back in," he says. "This is a very popular design overseas where drivers need to leave the keys in the ignition while opening gates or garage doors."
While striving constantly to fulfil customers' demands in terms of quality and prompt deliveries, another key to success for Tombo is consistency.
"For example, durability is most important for key ring pull reels, so we must ensure consistent quality supported by total quality control and a 100% inspection policy on finished products. Our standard for some key ring pull reels is 100,000 uses," Choi claims.
"Furthermore, buyers of premium items and consumer goods also have different requirements, some of which are quite stringent," he adds. "In one particular case, we had to use parachute string for a model where some clients demanded an ultra-strong cord."
Meeting tight delivery schedules is another facet of Tombo's approach. "I had some sleepless nights two years ago when we had to ship 1.2 million items in just 30 days," Choi recalls. The order was completed, and Tombo added yet another satisfied customer to its list.
Choi notes that for the past 10 years, orders have been characterised by smaller quantities and shorter delivery times. "We need to adapt to a fast order turnaround as it would be impossible to survive with the old mentality," he states.
"Today, at our 12,000-square-metre, 500-worker factory in Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland, we can produce up to 500 million items monthly for delivery 20-30 days after order confirmation - and we are flexible about the minimum quantity."
Tombo ships products worldwide, mainly to the gifts and premiums sector. The US and Europe each account for about 30% of total sales, with Japan claiming 20%. The rest is taken up by the Middle East, South America and Southeast Asia.
Looking to the future, Choi reveals that Tombo has designed some new items in collaboration with clients who hope to acquire the patent rights overseas. "This is a major direction for us, and one with great potential," he concludes.
WRITTEN BY WINNIE HUI
Tombo Industries Co Ltd