9 March 2007
Well Contained(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 03,2007)
Win Ko (HK) Co Ltd
|Win Ko (HK) Co Ltd believes it has a bright future in heat-resistant, durable and stain-resistant melamine products|
When Win Ko (HK) Co Ltd was established in the early 1990s, the first product it manufactured was melamine ashtrays for export to France. The heat-resistant, durability and stain-resistant properties of melamine made it an ideal material for such purposes.
After this first success, the company soon began branching out into other products, including melamine dishes, bowls and cutlery, and sales steadily climbed.
The firm's owner, however, kept looking for inspiration, and seeing all the innovative items on display at various trade fairs spurred him into designing unusual products of his own. Among them were star-shaped and triangular plates and combinations of melamine and other kinds of materials such as PP and stainless steel.
"He was experimenting, and actually the products didn't sell all that well - but they did get the company noticed," recalls manager Jay Fu. That set the stage for a burst of orders from overseas buyers in North and South America and especially Europe, which today accounts for 80% of sales.
The company's inventory of products kept expanding, with baby sets, chip n' dip trays, cutting boards, mug/cup/tumblers and even flower vases added to the mix.
In tandem, from five moulding machines and production of 5,000-10,000 pieces per day early on, output has grown to its present level of 55 machines and 80,000 pieces per day.
OEM is the firm's core service and represents 80% of production, with ODM the remaining 20%. "We have our own brand, W, which accounts for about 10% of our ODM business," Fu says.
Invented in the 1930s, melamine took the world by storm in the 1950s and 1960s. However, despite its long history as a consumer product, Fu believes melamine still has tremendous growth potential. "It has a lot of advantages," he points out. "It's portable; alkaline and acid-proof; it won't stain; it won't burn; it's non-toxic and it's not easy to break."
In fact, 2005 turned out to be one of the company's most profitable years. "We had some very large orders, including one for three million pieces of promotional products for a catalogue in the US. It took us three months to complete that order," she recalls.
Win Ko has hopes of increasing its sales in North America and Europe, as well as expanding further into other regions such as the Middle East and penetrating the Chinese mainland market, but for the latter it faces cultural challenges, including the fact that Chinese people often cook and serve their food in the same containers.
"Our products can't be used in a microwave or a conventional oven," warns Fu. "That's the disadvantage of melamine products and the main reason why glass and ceramics are preferred on the mainland."
Melamine, on the other hand, does offer rich design possibilities. Not only can any colour be produced but photos and graphic art can be sealed between the layers of transparent coating and melamine for more design variety.
"People like designs that are realistic but today they want more graphic art and they like to mix and match colours," says Fu, adding that a photo of ripe apples and grapes on a melamine chopping board looks positively luscious.
One new product that the company is planning to introduce is a "metallic" melamine tray featuring gold-coloured satin.
Melamine bathroom fixtures such as soap dishes and tumblers, as well as flower pots and other gardening equipment, are also new directions under consideration.
After cutting back on its advertising and promotional efforts in recent years, Win Ko is shifting into high gear. "Not many people knew how many products we had, so now we plan to advertise much more," Fu reports. "We advertise in several business magazines, such as Hong Kong Enterprise, and we have a website that people can use to order online."
By building on an already firm foundation, the company is positioning itself for a solid future. "I think we'll keep growing because I can see a day ahead when melamine will also take over some of the functions of plastic, such as food containers," says Fu. For its part, Win Ko plans to be ready for any new opportunity.
WRITTEN BY ANDREA PAWLYNA