Made-in-China toi­let seats mak­ing the world lighter in style

The Nation - - ASIA INNOVATION -

FROM THE DE­SIGNS that glow at night to the mod­els that can be used to potty- train kids, made-in- China elec­tronic toi­let seat cov­ers are win­ning the hearts of con­sumers the world over, par­tic­u­larly in the West.

Chi­nese com­mode cover man­u­fac­turer Topseat is now sell­ing around 2 mil­lion pieces ev­ery year glob­ally, net­ting $26 mil­lion, said the com­pany top ex­ec­u­tive.

Topseat’s clients in­clude ma­jor home im­prove­ment re­tail­ers such as US firm Home De­pot Inc and Lowe’s Cos and Ger­many’s OBI Group and Bauhaus.

Its high-tech toi­let seats are also sold on US e-com­merce plat­form Ama­zon un­der the Topseat trade­mark.

“More than 70 per cent of our prod­ucts are ex­ported to Ger­many and we have taken up more than 60 per cent share for the do-it-your­self toi­let seat mar­ket in Ger­many, with that for mid- to high- end ones reach­ing 80 per cent,” said Wu Dongcheng, pres­i­dent of the com­pany.

“Our toi­let seat cov­ers are sold in more than 70 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ger­many, the United States, the United King­dom, France, Italy, South Africa, Kenya and Zim­babwe.”

It has been quite a turn­around for the 42-year-old busi­ness­man, who set up the toi­let seat com­pany in 2003 only as a trial pro­gram to boost his re­sume for a busi­ness school ap­pli­ca­tion.

In 2003, the com­pany sold the first batch 2,000 toi­let seats to an Ital­ian com­pany at $4 each. But now the com­pany's toi­let seats are sold at $35 to $70 each in the US mar­ket, while the price in the Euro­pean mar­ket is even higher, with some prod­ucts cost­ing more than 100 eu­ros ($117.6).

From its fac­tory in An­shun, a city in South­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince, Topseat cre­ates dec­o­ra­tive toi­let seats from lo­cally sourced, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ma­te­ri­als such as bam­boo, straw stalks and bio-glues.

Be­ing eco-friendly is a key fac­tor for the com­pany’s suc­cess in the West­ern mar­kets, as they are more en­vi­ron­men­tally con­cerned, Wu said.

In 2014, the com­pany took the lead to make toi­let seat cov­ers from straw stalks to turn this po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ard into a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity.

Topseat has an agree­ment with Xi­ayun town­ship in An­shun, which buys straw stalks from lo­cal farm­ers on be­half of the com­pany.

Sales of toi­let seats made of straw stalk are ex­pected to reach more than 200,000 pieces this year. Topseat is ne­go­ti­at­ing with the World Wildlife Fund to use the WWF logo on its prod­uct pack­ag­ing.

“We aim to in­crease the sales of straw-made toi­let seats to 5 mil­lion units an­nu­ally in the next five years,” said Wu.

In­no­va­tion is another rea­son be­hind for Topseat’s suc­cess.

It holds more than 1,000 patents for its over 5,000 pat­tern de­signs, ev­ery­thing from fly­ing birds, flow­ers, green bam­boo leaves, whales, tur­tles and the Eif­fel Tower, and some even with re­lief sculp­tures and 3D ef­fects.

Flow­ers blos­som­ing

“Most of our toi­let seat cov­ers have slow-close fea­ture: as the lid closes, you can see the whole process of flow­ers blos­som­ing,” said Wu.

One well-re­ceived cover can be used for both adult and ba­bies, mak­ing it a good choice for fam­i­lies with tod­dlers.

Topseat uses a mag­net to con­nect the tod­dler seat to the lid, so it is ba­si­cally hid­den when it is not in use.

In ad­di­tion, the child’s fin­gers won’t get trapped as both the lid and the adult seat have the slow-close fea­ture.

The com­pany de­vel­oped this spe­cial toi­let seat cover in 2007. In the same year, the model sold more than 400,000 pieces in the US mar­ket, giv­ing the de­sign a head start and the com­pany mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enue.

On on­line shop­ping plat­form Ama­zon, a Topseat toi­let seat is sold from $35 to $70, de­pend­ing on the model/de­sign, which gen­er­ally re­ceives high rat­ings and praise from sat­is­fied cus­tomers.

“This seat is very easy to in­stall and seems to be made from high- qual­ity ma­te­ri­als. I have never spent this much for a toi­let seat and this is well worth the price,” wrote one cus­tomer.

“I feel a lit­tle silly to rave about a toi­let seat, but the tur­tle on the seat is gor­geous. The fish and tur­tle ap­pear to move as you do and the de­sign changes to another scene as you look from dif­fer­ent an­gles,” com­mented another.

In 2015, re­ports of Chi­nese tourists swarm­ing stores in Ja­pan dur­ing the Chi­nese New Year hol­i­day to buy all elec­tronic toi­let seats in stock pro­voked heated dis­cus­sions among Chi­nese ne­ti­zens, when it was later dis­cov­ered that they were made in China.

The qual­ity of toi­let seat cov­ers made in China is as good as, if not bet­ter, than those made by Ja­panese com­pa­nies, said Wu, who also recog­nised that more mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing are needed be­fore Chi­nese con­sumers know about and ac­cept the Topseat brand.

Topseat’s toi­let seat cov­ers sell in mil­lions, cre­at­ing a big op­por­tu­nity for Chi­nese firms.

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