Household brand Kee Wah updated its image to produce the perfect blend of traditional practices and progress A brand that prevails for half a century may give customers a dated impression, but that perception can be changed if the management style evolves to meet the market's need. Kee Wah Bakery, a pastry manufacturer with its own retail network across Hong Kong and famed for its traditional Chinese pastries, including wedding cakes, is a perfect example. Managing director Kevin Wong Sik-cheung, a descendant of the company's late founder Wong Yip-wing, has skilfully combined his western management style with traditional Chinese business philosophy. The company was founded in 1938 as a small neighbourhood grocery store on Shanghai Street in Kowloon. During the war, there was a severe shortage of everything, so the founder made simple cakes and pastries with whatever ingredients he could lay his hands on and sold the products to boat dwellers in the nearby harbourside. That is how Kee Wah started its business as a bakery. Born and raised in Hong Kong, the 63-year-old managing director spent a significant amount of time living in the United States. Mr Wong, a typical self-made businessman who had once run a local stock-trading company with British and Australian partners, made a big decision to join the bakery in 1995 at the repeated requests of his father. As the eldest son in the family with a mission to sustain the family business, Mr Wong understood that even a household brand could not compete if it stayed the same old way without revamping its image. The idea of rejuvenating the brand sprung from Mr Wong's chance encounter with a woman walking in the street carrying a designer bag with the old Kee Wah mooncake box wrapped in a paper bag. This incident persuaded him that a nice package design would stay in the mind of the consumer. 'I believe a nice package plays a crucial part in influencing a buyer's purchasing decision. I can understand why the previous stale and old-fashioned look of our packaged goods was not so exciting, even though our products were of high quality,' he said. Taking the helm of the business, Mr Wong decided to give the brand a complete facelift by inviting two leading local designers to work on the interior design of the retail stores and product packaging. He invited Ah Chung, a famous Hong Kong cartoonist, to create a series of comic strips for gift packages. 'We were very fortunate to find two very experienced designers who helped us work on the rebranding exercise,' Mr Wong said. 'We have seen double-digit annual growth in our sales volume since the rebranding.' As the expansion continued, Mr Wong commissioned an international consultancy firm in 2003 to help upgrade the management structure. 'The advice from the consultants was very effective. They pointed out the areas that needed to improve and, as a result, the overall production efficiency of the company has increased significantly,' Mr Wong said. Mr Wong is fully aware that successful business is largely dictated by market trends and consumer needs, especially for bakery products. He has to maintain the traditional Chinese characteristics associated with the brand while also evolving around modern business practices to meet consumer demands. From the market research Kee Wah conducted, Mr Wong learned that consumers in general preferred older, established brands and that their expectations of a good brand image correlated closely with hygiene standards, product packaging and food ingredients. With this information, Mr Wong worked very closely with his management team on the rebranding. 'We are still dedicated to preserving the long-time tradition of Chinese cakes and pastries while adhering to the values of quality and high hygienic standards that are absolutely crucial for consumers,' Mr Wong said. 'I am totally open-minded to my staff's comments for improvement and new ideas.' Unlike many other Hong Kong food manufacturers that have their production plants on the mainland to reap the benefits of economies of scale, Kee Wah has chosen to produce locally at its factory in Lai Chi Kok so that the company can monitor every step of production to ensure the highest level of product quality. 'Freshness and quality come first as far as the company is concerned. There are pros and cons in setting up a production plant in the mainland, but we know what we want,' said Mr Wong. Mr Wong is proud of the fact that Kee Wah is a genuinely home-grown company serving local people and employing more than 600 staff. It has 42 retail outlets across Hong Kong, Macau, the mainland, Taiwan, Japan and the United States. 10 things I know 1 Know your market: The bakery business is one of the most competitive in Hong Kong. There is almost one bakery shop in every few blocks and, without knowledge of what is going on with your competitors, it is almost like trying to play a game in a battlefield. 2 Do market research: It is an effective marketing tool to allow companies to decide how and when to launch a new product. It also provides insights into how a brand is being perceived by the target audience. It helps to establish my marketing strategy. 3 Know your customers: We are in the business of selling cakes and pastries and first and foremost we need to have a good understanding of what our customers want and try to meet their needs because customer loyalty is the key to success. 4 Quality comes first: We always stress the quality of our products because it is very difficult to regain the trust of customers once they find our products inferior. Our products are strictly controlled by a state-of-the-art production line and computer system; from raw materials, production to packaging, the process is carried out in a sterile and controlled environment to ensure hygienic and safe products for our customers. 5 Value your staff: Most have been with us since the early years of our business, which would not have gone this far without their great contributions. They are the pillar of our success. 6 Know how to delegate: We have 41 retail outlets across Hong Kong and Asia, and it is impossible for me to oversee every operation single-handedly. Therefore I need to delegate my work and responsibility to teams I trust. 7 Develop a good business network: Besides our retail business, we also have corporate customers such as Starbucks, Cathay Pacific Airways and Premium Motors, thanks to the good business connections the company has built over the years. 8 Be courteous to customers: Even if customers are just buying a small piece of cake, I request all my frontline staff to always be courteous and accommodating. After all, word gets around that can make or break a business. 9 Be innovative: It is vital to keep your customers interested with a diverse range of products or you are no different from any other ordinary bakery shop. I always try to bring something that I think is tasty from my travels and see if we can develop a similar product with an equal or better taste. 10 Maintain a work-life balance: It is very important to strike a balance between work and personal hobbies. I am an amateur car racer and it helps me to relax from work. The excitement I derive from car racing gives me the impetus to succeed in my business.