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Building Hong Kong Brands(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 07,2007)

Canton Fair



A groundbreaking opportunity to participate in China's largest trade fair proved irresistible to NUMEROUS companies seeking to tap an increasingly affluent market

No one was more delighted with the Hong Kong pavilion's inaugural presence at the 101st edition of the China Import and Export Fair - formerly known as the Canton Fair - than Joe Ng.

The California Air Ltd managing director said he took part in the Chinese mainland's largest and most comprehensive trade fair in order to develop the China market.

"Our company was looking for the right people to help us and we had some enquiries from places such as Harbin and Kunming," he revealed. "We were very satisfied with the feedback that we got."

Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia are currently the most important export markets for California Air, which provides air quality and indoor environmental quality solutions and products for offices and factories, but Ng believes that China will be the firm's biggest market in the next 10-20 years.

"Our first aim is to find distributors," he explained. "Depending on how we do, we might change our strategy later and have direct sales in China."

California Air was one of 41 Hong Kong companies that exhibited their products at the 5,661-square-metre International Pavilion to traders from the Chinese mainland and buyers from around the world.

The Hong Kong contingent was among more than 1,700 exhibitors from 314 enterprises, representing 36 countries and regions, that participated in the inaugural International Pavilion.

The China Import and Export Fair, which was held in two phases from April 15-20 and April 25-30, was previously restricted to mainland enterprises.

"For the first time in its 50 years, the fair featured an import section, which underlines the shift of emphasis of China's foreign trade from export to a more balanced import-export development direction," Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC) executive director Fred Lam observed.

"China's role in the global economy is also evolving from that of a world factory to a more balanced one of world factory-and-market."

The TDC was appointed to organise the Hong Kong pavilion, which Lam described as a "major breakthrough in trade promotion for both Hong Kong and the TDC".

Organising Hong Kong companies to exhibit at the fair is an important part of the TDC's strategy in promoting Hong Kong brands, which over the past three years has seen the TDC launch similar promotions in key mainland cities under the theme "Style Hong Kong".

The exhibition area for Hong Kong companies at the China Import and Export Fair totalled approximately 1,000 square metres, the largest single space among all non-mainland participants.

The Hong Kong brands participating in the fair were primarily from the electronics, home electrical appliance, houseware, gift, toy and watch and clock sectors.

Branded products were identified as primary targets for promotion as research studies on the mainland consumer market over the past three years have found that Hong Kong branded products are considered to be of good quality, well-designed and reasonably-priced.

A TDC study has identified two million middle-income mainland consumers who began their careers after the 1980s, live in major cities and earn more than RMB60,000 per year as the target segment for Hong Kong products aimed at the China market.

Leading Hong Kong companies represented at the International Pavilion included Rise Vigor Ltd, which has manufactured sports bags, backpacks and headgear since 1985.

Director Jaffar Hon explained that Rise Vigor's main agenda was promoting the 22-year-old company's Poldor brand name, which is already known in Europe.

"We wanted to establish our brand name in China and thought if we exhibited with other Hong Kong companies at the International Pavilion it might help us in looking for distributors," he said.

The strategy proved successful: Hon revealed that Rise Vigor accumulated more than 300 business cards, half of which were from China with the remainder from European countries.

"We exhibited as an individual company at the fair for four or five years but being in the pavilion was better," he admitted. "It was more centralised in terms of brand names, and the quantity and quality of visitors was better."

Rise Vigor's business transactions at the fair increased 20% this year, compared with last year. "It was very satisfactory and we definitely plan to be back next year," Hon declared.

Another company that jumped at the chance to be an exhibitor in the International Pavilion was China Projectors Group, which makes projectors and projector screens for educational institutions, businesses and home theatre systems.

"This was a golden opportunity that we saw as a good way of introducing ourselves - not only to China but also to overseas buyers," said export manager Joseph Ng.

China Projectors Group exports entry-level to medium-priced products, mainly to Europe and the Middle East, and the fair extended the company's markets to Africa and South America.

Ng added that it also proved equally valuable in terms of actual orders. "About 15%-20% of our total orders for the year came from this fair," he revealed.

This was perhaps not surprising as Asians comprised the largest contingent of 117,134 buyers, followed by Europeans, 38,357; the US, 28,779; Africa, 16,265 and Oceania, 6,214.

The spring session of the China Import and Export Fair, which also boasts an autumn edition, hosted 95 well-known multinational retailers - 15 more than the previous gathering.

The fair attracted an estimated 14,000 exhibitors and more than 206,000 overseas buyers and ended on a high note with a record US$36.39bn in export turnover - a 6.8% increase over the last session.