Something to sing about

Scarlet Ma

Innovation and creativity

FOR MORE THAN two decades, karaoke has delighted millions while giving amateur singers a chance to grab a microphone, sing a bunch of songs and enjoy the spotlight.

The good news is that they can now plan their mini-concerts in advance, with a bit of help from technology.

In July last year, karaoke bar chain California Red launched a programme that allowed users to download songs to a mobile phone for use in karaoke.

Using Bluetooth, they can select their favourite songs and upload them to a computer by mobile phone once they arrive at the karaoke bar. Songs can be prioritised, with the mobile phone doing the prompting for each successive song.

The programme, the first of its kind in the world, won California Red the grand award in the innovation and creativity category of the Hong Kong Awards for Industries.

The concept grew from a Time magazine report about an interactive billboard in New York that used Bluetooth technology. Anthony Lock, managing director of California Red, said the story opened the company's eyes to the potential of Bluetooth and how the technology could be used to enhance California Red's services, especially in a city like Hong Kong, where almost everyone had a phone with Bluetooth installed.

Mr Lock said this was only the beginning, and that he foresaw revolutionary developments in time to come. Eventually, the company hoped to build up a strong Bluetooth community.

'We hope our customers will get into the habit of activating their Bluetooth when they visit our shop and familiarise themselves with the programme,' he said. Adopting Bluetooth technology had opened up a lot of possibilities and business opportunities, he said.

California Red plans to add more interactive features, such as opening a chatroom to enable people in different rooms to communicate with each other, and setting up a platform for people to share photographs.

For now only Nokia mobile users can use the software, but starting next month Sony Ericsson and Motorola phone users will also be able to benefit from the system.

Mr Lock hoped the number of users would increase to 100,000 by June.

He said the recognition that came with winning the award was very encouraging to the company and its staff.

Innovation and creativity were essential elements in a company's survival kit, he said.

'What people like is forever changing,' he said. 'Customer expectations grow and change, and we have to accommodate these changing needs or we'd be replaced by our competitors.

'The competition is tough and being creative, or not, can be a matter of life or death. Only by creating new experiences for customers can our company expand.'

New products were inspiring, and launching them on a regular basis helped to sustain team spirit, he said.

Fresh challenges and encouragement stimulated staff and increased their sense of job satisfaction, and this in turn generated greater loyalty.

Mr Lock said California Red believed in continuing innovation, which could be difficult to achieve in a city like Hong Kong, where the fast-paced lifestyle did not allow people enough time and room to come up with new ideas, compared with countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Most of the staff California Red recruited every year were between 18 and 23 years old.

Mr Lock said these young people had huge potential and, given sufficient room, encouragement and training, they could come up with highly creative yet practical ideas. The company holds regular competitions between different departments in order to stimulate staff and boost morale.

Every year, California Red takes on a number of summer interns from schools and universities, gives them good work experience and in turn gains an understanding of the younger generation.

California Red teams up with other companies regularly to work on new products.

Certificate of Merit

Demiurge Unit

Metro City Management

The I-Consulting Group

Award winners

Hong Kong Business Intermediary Company

Hong Thai Travel Services

New Digital Noise (N.D.N)

And the judges said:

California Red demonstrates the importance of creativity as a means of differentiating the company from other competitors. It has built its strength upon a strong culture of innovation and the ability to transform new ideas into strategies and service delivery. This is proved by the newly invented karaoke inputting system with mobile phone. By making use of the latest Bluetooth technology, the company has developed not just a convenient service for customers but also a community platform with the potential of diversification into other new business areas. California Red's accomplishment in providing comfortable and popular entertainment services through a number of innovative services, such as smokeless k-box and exclusive k-songs, has enhanced the company's brand name and rejuvenated the entire industry, making the company a benchmark itself as well as a pioneer in the local and regional markets.