Pen­ning a business

A prod­uct de­signer has made his mark with a ball pen, at­tribut­ing his suc­cess to what he calls an in­ex­haustible pas­sion for de­sign­ing sta­tionery, Sophie He re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONGKONG -

Paul Lam was a prod­uct de­signer at a ball pen orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer (OEM) fac­tory be­fore he helped the company launch its own sta­tionery brand, ten De­sign Sta­tionery, in 2010.

Ball pens man­u­fac­tured by ten De­sign Sta­tionery are now be­ing sold at some of Hong Kong’s prom­i­nent re­tail store chains like City Su­per and Page One, for be­tween HK$200 and HK$600 each.

Each year, some 10,000 to 20,000 ball pens made by the company are sold to cus­tomers, Lam told China Daily.

He said the in­spi­ra­tion for the company’s name came from the Ja­panese lan­guage — the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of “ten” in Ja­panese means “a point”.

“Writ­ing be­gins from a point; hence, we use ‘ten’ as our brand name to con­vey the mean­ing of a ‘start-up’.”

Lam ma­jored in elec­tronic en­gi­neer­ing at Hong Kong Poly­tech­nic Univer­sity. After grad­u­a­tion from the univer­sity in 1998, he worked for a lo­cal toys company for more than two years be­fore join­ing Wah Fook Hold­ings Ltd — a lo­cal firm that owns an OEM sta­tionery fac­tory in Shen­zhen, em­ploy­ing some 150 work­ers.

Lam used to be in charge of de­sign and prod­uct de­vel­op­ment at the fac­tory but, after work­ing for the firm for 10 years, he pro­posed to the fac­tory’s owner that they should have their own sta­tionery brand in­stead of just mak­ing prod­ucts for Euro­pean and US cus­tomers.

“Com­pe­ti­tion was very in­tense and costs had kept on ris­ing” he ex­plained, adding that in the past decade, more OEM fac­to­ries have opened up on the main­land, of­fer­ing very cheap prices to lure cus­tomers.

“But, we can’t keep low­er­ing our prices while main­tain­ing the qual­ity,” said Lam.

The ball pens made by the fac­tory were sell­ing for about $1.50 each.

Wah Fook set up ten De­sign Sta­tionery in 2010 to de­velop its own brand. Lam, as the man­ager, with two other col­leagues, started to de­sign for their own.

It took them six months to de­sign and pro­duce their first ball pen. The pen’s ap­pear­ance was very sim­ple but thought­ful de­tails had been put into it.

Lam and his col­leagues took their first prod­uct to ISOT — one of Asia’s largest-scale sta­tionery and of­fice prod­ucts trade shows in Ja­pan.

The prod­uct caught the at­ten­tion of many at the show and pos­i­tive feed­backs were re­ceived. More im­por­tantly, it aroused City Su­per’s in­ter­est.

City Su­per, which at­tended the trade show in Ja­pan, or­dered 300 ball pens from Lam’s firm to sell them at its chain stores in Hong Kong. In­ter­na­tional award

To fur­ther pro­mote the company’s prod­ucts, Lam par­tic­i­pated in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions and won a Red Dot De­sign Award. Other re­tail­ers in Hong Kong soon no­ticed that City Su­per was sell­ing the prod­ucts and they’ve de­cided to do the same.

Cur­rently, ten De­sign Sta­tionery’s prod­ucts can be found at Page One, In­noCen­tre, the Hong Kong Trade De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil’s de­sign gallery as well as The Com­mer­cial Press.

The company now of­fers 44 dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, and it is in­tro­duc­ing four to five new prod­ucts to the mar­ket ev­ery year — from ball pens which are also USBs to ball pens that can be used to write on the screen of smart­phones and tablets.

Lam has also brought in sev­eral agents to help ten De­sign Sta­tionery sell its prod­ucts on the main­land and over­seas.

“From what I know, our prod­ucts are be­ing sold at high-end shop­ping malls in Beijing, Shang­hai and sev­eral other ma­jor ci­ties on the main­land,” he said, adding that the main­land is al­ready the company’s num­ber one mar­ket as sales on the main­land ac­count for 30 per­cent of its to­tal sales. Hong Kong con­trib­utes 20 per­cent, the rest of Greater China Area ac­counts for about 10 per­cent, with the re­main­der com­ing from the US, Ja­pan and Korea.

From cus­tomers’ feed­back, Lam has learned that main­land con­sumers are slightly dif­fer­ent than their Hong Kong coun­ter­parts. Pens as gifts

“Main­land clients would pay ex­tra at­ten­tion to the pack­ag­ing, and would like their ball pen to be placed in a larger box so that they can present them as gifts to their fam­i­lies and friends.”

But launch­ing a new brand is never easy, Lam ar­gued. “When we were work­ing at the OEM fac­tory, ev­ery­thing was much sim­pler. We pro­duced ac­cord­ing to cus­tomers’ or­ders, and we never had to worry about not be­ing able to sell our prod­ucts.

“But pro­duc­ing our own prod­ucts, we have ev­ery­thing to worry about — whether the de­sign is good enough, whether it’s able to ac­cu­rately con­vey our de­sign in­tent to users, and if the prod­uct would be­come popular in the mar­ket.

“Some­times, it took us as long as six months to de­sign a ball pen, and when we brought it to mar­ket, it is like in­tro­duc­ing our new baby to the world,” Lam said.

He also said that as the company is very small, they don’t want to or­der large amounts of raw ma­te­ri­als, but ev­ery fac­tory as­sesses what the min­i­mum or­der­ing quan­tity would be.

Lam ad­mits that, de­spite hav­ing its own sta­tionery brand now, it made the OEM fac­tory more trust­wor­thy to cus­tomers. The fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion from ten De­sign Sta­tionery to Wah Fook Hold­ings is not sig­nif­i­cant.

“We con­trib­ute around 5 per­cent of the to­tal sales of Wah Fook,” he said

The company plans to en­hance its prod­uct de­vel­op­ment in fu­ture and fo­cus its re­sources on Asia, es­pe­cially the Greater China re­gion.

Lam said he has an in­ex­haustible pas­sion for de­sign­ing sta­tionery.

“I couldn’t stop think­ing about de­sign. When I go shop­ping out on the streets, what­ever I see I’ll try to draw an in­spi­ra­tion from them for my fu­ture de­sign.”

He firmly be­lieves that Hong Kong is an ideal place for de­sign­ers to start their own busi­nesses, as it’s a city where Western and East­ern cul­tures meet, and the lo­cal mar­ket is al­ways a test­ing ground for cre­ative prod­ucts.

Lam sug­gests that young de­sign­ers should get a clear idea of what they in­tend to do, and who are their po­ten­tial cus­tomers be­fore start­ing their own business.

“A clear mar­ket strat­egy is very im­por­tant for young de­sign­ers, oth­er­wise they will be just run­ning around and wast­ing re­sources,” he said.

Some­times, it took

us as long as six months to de­sign a ball pen, and when

we brought it to mar­ket, it is like in­tro­duc­ing our new baby to the world.

PAUL LAM MAN­AGER, TEN STA­TIONERY

DE­SIGN

Con­tact the writer at So­phiehe@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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