10 July 2008
Delightful Dolls(HKTDC Toys & Games , Vol 02,2008)
Playing with dolls has become a grown-up business for Bonful Co Ltd, which has stayed with this line since 1992.
Starting off with porcelain, and more recently switching to polyresin, the firm produces a broad range of attractive dolls designed to please girls the world over. "The first models were very simple, just a basic doll with a covering dress," relates Director Patrick Cheng. "With time, we established a recognisable line of dolls that sells well to this day."
He also recalls that the initial production of dolls was done on a CMT (cutting, making and trimming) basis. "We were mainly acting as a sub-contractor for other factories that were, in turn, supplying OEM orders. It was simple, straightforward cutting and assembly work, and the dolls hardly differed between customers."
It was that apparent lack of design options that led the astute management team at Bonful to reconsider its role. "We decided to try and design and develop dolls of our own," says Mr Cheng. "After all, we were wholly familiar with the techniques and processes and had a good idea of the type of product that was going to market."
The marketing proved to be the hardest task. "We needed to quickly establish ourselves as a front-line manufacturer and supplier and we had to work very hard to persuade buyers to give us an opportunity," Mr Cheng recalls.
Noting that polyresin has replaced porcelain as the material of choice for dolls, he says that "porcelain looked nice, and was usually employed for the head, hands and feet on a doll". Today, he adds, polyresin is used because it offers opportunities for highly detailed sculpting, is easy to mould and has a longer life. "It is also easy to paint and decorate."
Attention to detail
This attention to detail is noticeable with the firm's latest series of dolls, prepared for the Christmas season. "The hands and the faces on the models are finely crafted, and all the dresses are well cut, fashionable and highly detailed," Mr Cheng observes. "We put a lot of effort into this line, from the in-house design to the golden thread and tassels trim."
In addition to dolls, Bonful has added a range of polyresin figurines that is also suitable for Christmas. "These are highly true-to-life reproductions of figures taken from classic, respected sources," Mr Cheng says. "The faces on the models are taken from religious portraits, and the clothing is typical of the early Christian period."
To guard against market fluctuations in the demand for dolls, Bonful has added a few other simple lines, including such items as toy tea sets, various toy household artefacts and ornamental lamps.
As an example, Mr Cheng mentions toy sets comprising a doll, a jewellery box, and an item of furniture - usually a sofa - complete with satin-finished cushions. "One set that sells well features a ballerina figurine performing a pirouette, and a hanger for jewellery."
Another line comprises ornamental lamps. "A table-standing design features a rather beautiful flowered-decked lady wearing an Ascot-style hat and seemingly sauntering in the sun," says Mr Cheng. "She has a luxurious green-satin frilled dress in the Victoriana style that runs from shoulders to feet."
The addition of further lines proved to be a wise decision given the oft-volatile nature of the toys sector. "There are times when business just zips along," Mr Cheng smiles, "but the market can be very moody and sometimes things get very quiet. That's when demand for our other lines kicks in and keeps the factory busy."
Despite the skilled workmanship and highly detailed finishes displayed by its products, Bonful finds it is still necessary to have the right price point. "We would like to charge more, to fully reflect the effort, but the market has its own checks and balances and we have to compete," says Mr Cheng.
The major markets for Bonful are the US and Europe. "Demand from the US has been subdued of late," he adds, "and we have upped our marketing efforts in Europe to counter the downswing. Fortunately, the Christmas-related markets remain stable year in and year out."
It seems that Bonful Co Ltd has all bases covered when it comes to attractive and appealing dolls and accessories for children of all ages.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON