ALLAN International moved out of the kitchen last June to start making hair dryers and curling tongs. By Christmas, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe lookalike hairdos were gracing the covers and the fashion pages of all the best magazines: the glamour-puss look was all the rage and women everywhere were urged to get curling. The timing, from Allan's point of view, could not have been better. But then the appliance maker has shown itself to be a master of smart timing since coming to the market seven months ago. The $72 million flotation itself cashed in neatly on the bull run, coming in the wake of Governor Chris Patten's proposals for extended democracy, but before any of the implications worried investors. Last month it snapped up a majority stake in a toaster manufacturer in China, allowing it to exploit what it sees as widespread demand for these appliances. Already the factory is churning out a greater number of toasters per Hongkong dollar than at the time the deal was signed, thanks to the sharp decline of the yuan. With some 30 per cent of materials locally sourced, and man-hours also coming at a sharp discount for the foreign currency employer, the promise of cheap manufacturing over the border has come true with a bonus on top. Next on the cards is a pivotal joint venture with a state-owned enterprise which will pave the way for a full onslaught on the China market. This, says managing director Albert Cheung, will be the big one: accessing the giant market on its doorstep that everyone is battling to carve up. ''Last month's acquisition of the toaster factory was only the first step in long-term planning to expand our product range. In the very near future we are considering more acquisitions also related to electrical appliances manufacturing. ''For our strategy, expanding the product range is our first move and we are constantly looking into cooking appliances: toasters, toaster ovens, rice cookers and also personal care items.'' If successful - and Mr Cheung does not seem the kind of man to give up on success easily - Allan will be a truly well-rounded company in the old-fashioned sense. In the West, it churns out electric carving knives, food blenders and hair dryers for big name brands such as Kenwood, Black and Decker, and Philips. These are the giants of the electrical appliances industry, and all have used Allan for more than five years - in Kenwood's case for 10 years. The items being made are essentially practical ones, the sort of things which are less hurt by swings in consumer confidence and spending. Mr Cheung says: ''These are recession-proof products. Indeed, in times of recession, people cook more because they are less able to afford to go out.'' Up until the $12 million purchase of the controlling stake in Linkco, the Shenzhen-based toaster and toaster-oven maker, Allan was very much a behind-the-scenes company. In the financial year to March 31, 1992, household electrical appliances made up some 86.9 per cent of the group's $232.12 million turnover, the remainder coming from plastic parts, components and injection moulds. This year after-tax profits are forecast to come in at a minimum of $40 million. Since listing last November - a period over which the Hang Seng Index has climbed 12.71 - the stock has grown 23.3 per cent to $1.27. The offer price was $1.03. In February, some three months after listing, it fell to an all-time low of 84 cents. It is certainly not the sort of stock to excite much attention. It is small, with a capitalisation of $444.5 million, and analyst coverage - if it exists at all - is scant. Of course, the same could be said of any number of lower-liners on the Hongkong exchange, but it does not stop them leaping up and down the performance charts and popping up in the top-10 most active stocks league once in a while. Maybe this just means no one thinks Allan is going to be snapped up by a mainland suitor, or that its present China quotient is too remote to allow it to qualify as a fully fledged red chip. But by buying into existing China factories, injecting expertise, introducing economies of scale and streamlining production, Allan is gaining maximum production for minimal outlay. By expanding its China market in tandem with production, it smooths out the effect of the fluctuating yuan - at the same time knowing it has a solid cushion of earnings in dollars, sterling and marks. Mr Cheung says: ''We are planning to purchase more locally made components in China to minimise the effect of the currency fluctuations. ''For local sales we will try to use as much as possible local materials and for exports we might have to use imported components, but that is not a problem because we are gaining foreign currency.'' In the year to March 31 last year, 30 per cent of the group's turnover came from the US, 26 per cent from Britain, 20 per cent from Hongkong and 11 per cent from Germany. China business was swallowed up in the 13 per cent slab that came from elsewhere, but is likely to start meriting its own segment soon. If the toaster was the first step, the next stage will be the locally manufactured rice cooker, taking to the country of the cracked iron rice bowl the pastel-coloured electrical variety. The group is also exploring selling its electrical mini-chopper and hand-held choppers on the mainland. Mr Cheung says: ''Fundamentally the rice cooker is a first priority product for Chinese families. At the present moment the rice cooker in China is still a very big market. ''Our products are not luxury items, and even if it may be considered a luxury in China today, rice is one of the fundamental foods to the family. ''From our market research studies we have a clear understanding that everybody in China is looking to have a rice cooker themselves.'' But right now those consumers are torn between expensive Japanese models - where prices can top $1,000 - and home-made poorer quality versions that retail around the $300 to $600 mark. Allan aims to position its product on Japanese quality and Chinese price tags, but in a bid to ensure effective distribution - which Mr Cheung sees as key to success in the China market - the first move will be to clinch a joint-venture deal. He says: ''We consider distribution in China one of the most important things to create sales. All the old state-owned enterprises have existing distribution networks and we are trying to make use of these networks.'' to distribute improved quality, cost-effective rice cookers. ''Then, with all these channels of distribution, we can use them to distribute our existing products. That is the most effective way of going into China and tackling the market and really creating a market of our own.'' Opening shops, he says, is expensive and takes Allan away from its key area of expertise - manufacturing. But there are no plans to change the existing formula for the West - making gadgets for, and often in conjunction with, the big names there.