29 Oct 2008
Perfect Vision(HKTDC Optical,2009)
Carving out niches for more innovative, value-added lines is helping Hong Kong manufacturers stay ahead of intense competition from mainland producers, particularly at the low end.
One such firm is L.B.I. Lunette Mfy Ltd, the Asian headquarters of a US-based company that started out selling spectacles in 1949. The Hong Kong arm has operated for the past 23 years.
"At first, we started out as a sourcing arm for the parent company, acting as a liaison office for our operations in North America," says Managing Director Denny Yu. "The items we sourced made our parent firm one of the biggest importers of spectacles frames in the US."
L.B.I. Lunette sourced suitable frames from many suppliers, placing orders and implementing QC and logistic functions. "We stayed that way until 1997, when we made the decision to build a wholly owned factory in Shenzhen," Mr Yu says. "We had to start from scratch with new in-house teams of designers, engineers and people with suitable marketing experience."
The first products from the new plant were eyeglasses cases, followed by frames. "We tried a run of simple frames, assembling them and learning about the work involved using simple soldering processes," Mr Yu relates.
"We sold our initial frames at a very low price in those days to ensure we won enough business to allow us to go on and produce better products, especially for the European market."
About a year or so after start up, at the frames assembling stage, the firm entered into consultation with three Italian technicians. "These highly experienced people assisted us in setting up a colouring department," says Mr Yu. "Other than the big, well-established frames manufacturers, few people in Hong Kong could do the colouring of spectacles frames."
The technicians stayed at the factory and trained mainland technicians in the necessary skills.
"Today, it is a point of pride that we can make all kinds of sophisticated colour combination frames," asserts Mr Yu. "This is still our focus because colour is highly important and allows us to create designs that differentiate our products from others."
L.B.I. Lunette has always been concerned about the environmental impact of its business. "Long before it became fashionable to be 'green' we were using environmentally friendly backing cards," asserts Mr Yu. "These are the cards that accompany frames and show the model, the size, the brand name and so on. We used recycled paper, and we also paid attention to minimising our own waste."
Today, L.B.I. Lunette also uses nickel-safe and lead-free materials from Europe. "These are especially in demand for children's products," Mr Yu says. "We also use German machines to achieve high precision."
In 2004, with a successful record supplying OEMs, L.B.I. Lunette decided that the time was right to further differentiate itself in the market through licensing Garfield children's eyewear on a worldwide basis as well as developing in-house brands.
"I Code is the brand name of our trendy unisex collection of frames that have fashionable, cosmopolitan and high-quality features, really beautiful eye shapes and modern temple designs," says Mr Yu. "Our I Code range ensures that there is a style to suit anyone and everyone.
There are also ODM lines for women, using the Bella Italia name, while a general line for men uses the Pride brand name. "These are all regular frames for prescription lenses and a limited collection of sunglasses," adds Mr Yu.
"As we have the capability, we welcome all kinds of OBM and OEM business. At the same time, we are very optimistic and will continue to develop our ODM lines," he states. "Our sales are up 20% compared with last year, and we achieved that under difficult market conditions. We receive a lot of strong support from loyal customers."
Recently, L.B.I. also entered into a multi-territorial licensing agreement with DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. to produce and market Shrek eyewear and accessories.
Major export markets are Europe (60%-70%), the Middle East and Australia. The US today takes about 5%-10%. "The Asian market is very difficult in terms of quantity," Mr Yu says.
L.B.I. Lunette has matured greatly, and looks assured of staying in focus for the long term.