Times are tough for most businesses in the wake of the global economic slowdown, especially for stationery manufacturers in Hong Kong and the mainland. While product development and market alignment might seem like the farthest thing from stationery manufacturers' minds, now is the perfect time for them to maintain their sales levels, said Amy Kilby, Asia vice-president at Office Products International. 'Contrary to popular belief, a pencil is not just a pencil. People are immensely fashion conscious about stationery,' said Ms Kilby, who will be co-hosting a seminar today at the Hong Kong International Stationery Fair where she will be sharing her insights into the latest trends and product designs. 'For example, in the European retail market, pink and really bright orange are the colours to have. To the consumer, the colour doesn't make a difference in price, but to the suppliers who have products in last year's colours this means missing out on a lot of sales, and in this economic climate it is just something they can't afford to do.' Ms Kilby also said that manufacturers should also be refining and developing their products for regional trends, especially when aiming at non-homogenous markets such as Europe, and trade fairs and seminars were a vital channel through which to do this. Besides boosting sales, these events also allow many mainland and Hong Kong stationery manufacturers to benchmark their products against the rest of the industry. This is true for Amazing Product Development, according to John Ho, a director at the paper and stationery manufacturing company. 'The recent financial problems mean that people are looking for value for money, not just something new. So it is vital for us to keep track of trends to see what different markets see as valuable,' he said. 'What [consumers] bought in the past is no clear indication of whether it will sell now, and we constantly have to keep abreast of changes. Also, a lot of product innovation is coming from local manufacturers, so we need to track these as well.' Mr Ho emphasised the value of end-market research but that the costs involved often made it impractical and trade fairs and seminars were the next best thing.