7 Feb 2007
Stepping Out(HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 01,2007)
Big John Industrial Ltd
|Vulcanized shoes and leisure footwear specialist Big John Industrial Ltd has its own Sunwave brand|
Fashions may come and go but a good idea remains a good idea, and with a little adjustment for the times will sustain a business almost indefinitely.
That's Big John Industrial Ltd director Vincent Lam's belief, and with nearly 20 years in the footwear business the company's experiences certainly bear out his view.
"Vulcanized shoes have been with us for 100 years and they are still selling," Lam points out. "It's a question of taking the same basic designs and adding some different fashion elements."
Specialising in vulcanized shoes and other leisure footwear - primarily sandals and slippers for men, women and children - Big John is an OEM/ODM supplier to many international household names and has also established its Sunwave brand.
Big achievements for a company which was established in 1988 with the opening of a factory in Dongguan on the Chinese mainland, followed by a second in Fujian Province in 2001 and a third in 2003 in Hubei Province.
"Because of the high labour costs in southern China we now employ only around 600 people in Dongguan," Lam explains. "Fujian employs more than 1,000 people and Hubei in excess of 800."
The Dongguan and Fujian factories produce vulcanized shoes while Hubei manufactures slippers and sandals using canvas, rubber, PU, EVA and cow and synthetic leather, mostly sourced on the mainland or through Hong Kong.
"We can make around 200,000-300,000 pairs of vulcanized shoes per month and some 300,000-500,000 pairs of slippers and sandals," Lam reveals. "It usually takes about 60 days from order confirmation to delivery, but it may be a little longer in peak season."
Big John concentrates on "mature" markets receptive to its middle- to high-end products, exporting mostly to Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia and North and South America.
"Variations in the materials we use for vulcanized shoes means the FOB price difference can be quite big - from around US$3-12," observes Lam. "Slippers can range from US$1-9, depending on the materials, order quantity and the manufacturing process."
Flexibility is fundamental to Big John's competitiveness, and it is able to work to customer designs, create designs for customers, source materials or manufacture using customer-supplied materials.
"We are constantly thinking of new ideas to develop our own designs," Lam says. "We want to provide customers with more of our own designs - that versatility gives us an extra competitive edge."
As a result, Lam asserts the company is fighting fit. "The market has changed," he concedes, noting that whereas customers were once looking for big quantities and low prices they now seek smaller orders and more complicated designs. "That can drive up the price, but we are very flexible."
He stresses that Big John can cope with small orders. "Our usual minimum order is around 3,000 pairs, but we understand that is difficult for some customers and we try to accommodate them."
Forging strong and long-lasting relationships with regular customers, many of whom have been with Big John for more than a decade, has sustained the company.
"We protect our customers," Lam insists. "We don't sell the same goods to their competitors in the same markets, we provide good quality and also offer other services."
Big John will even help customers source matching goods such as swimwear and consolidate them to reduce costs. "It's a question of service."
Although Big John's reputation was established as an OEM, he says the company is increasingly interested in brand development. "We introduced our own Sunwave brand almost 10 years ago and it now accounts for about 10% of our production," he recalls.
"We have plans to launch a new brand specifically for ladies, as we would also like to do something with a more feminine identity and Sunwave is quite neutral."
Customer service, quality of manufacturing and a strong in-house design capability will continue to be the cornerstones of Big John's philosophy, but Lam also has faith in the company's core product.
"Shoes that used to be worn by people aged from 15-20 are now being worn by people of different ages looking for something casual, and they can also be used for all occasions rather than only for sporting activities," Lam observes. "There are minor changes each year to keep the shoes in fashion but it's the same basic style - you just change a few of the elements."
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE
Big John Industrial Ltd