When orders crash, China's manufacturers at the Canton Fair show they still have fans and they're ripe for innovation
Manufacturers come up with new product features and strive to better understand their customers to stay afloat
Struggling manufacturers reported falling overseas orders because of the slowing global economy and greater political instability as China's biggest trade fair opened in Guangdong amid gloom on Thursday.
The twice-yearly China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, is widely seen as a gauge of how the export sector is likely to perform over the next six to nine months.
"Orders have gone down by at least 25 to 30 per cent across the mainland manufacturing industry," said Michael Wong Hing-wah, sales director of Jiangmen-based fan manufacturer Chang Rong Yu, which was promoting its products at the fair.
Wong said his firm had invested in in-depth marketing research to keep their clients in such bad times, sending its staff to stores in Brazil and Turkey to learn more about their needs.
"We invest in in-depth research in targeted markets such as Latin America and Europe so that we can provide tailor-made products that will help open doors for us," he said.
For example, Wong said, Chang Rong Yu had learnt that the Turkish market preferred taller fans of at least 1.6 metres in height while the Brazilian market preferred those with plastic covers over metal ones that would rust quickly in its coastal climate.
"Many of our competitors simply adopt cutthroat discounts, which is suicide," Wong said. "In difficult times, we need to better understand our clients' needs and provide them with tailor-made, worry-free products ... This is more pragmatic."
Foshan-based outdoor jacuzzi manufacturer Halo Spas rolled out new products that generate scents and mist at a five per cent discount after sales fell about 15 per cent.
"Many of our major European clients have gone bankrupt. We are just looking to survive this year and hoping for a better environment next year," said its sales executive Chen Junguang.
JNJ Spas said their plan to expand into the Middle East had been disrupted by political turmoil in Syria, forcing them to go back to the basics, promoting practical jacuzzis with simple functions instead.
Not all businesses were hit by the gloom, however.
Chaozhou-based electronic toilet seat maker Monga was eyeing the domestic market where only 3 per cent of local households used intelligent toilet seats.
"We are rolling out new products next year, allowing toilet seats to be linked to mobile applications to report things such as weekly toilet usage time and to dispense health advice," Monga employee Chen Ruixin said. "Our next research direction is to have seats give more detailed health analyses, such as urine tests."
Another Chaozhou-based toilet seat maker, Oulu, said sales of electronic seats with Bluetooth MP3 functions and lid-control sensors were still doing well.