How technology helps Hong Kong’s Tai Ping Carpets sell products to stars, casinos and airports
While some workers worry that robots may put them out of a job, those at Tai Ping Carpets can rest easy as the company believes skilled people will never be replaced by technology.
However, technology has helped the Hong Kong company lower costs, speed up production, and reduce pollution.
The 61 year old carpet brand counts movies stars like Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt as customers, as well as the British Royal family. It also supplies carpets for Macau casinos including big names such as Sands, Parisian, and Venetian, as well as for luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and The Peninsula.
Millions of international travellers have also walked on its products – the latest addition to Tai Ping’s client base is Hong Kong International Airport, where 85,000 sq metres of carpet was laid in Terminal One.
“As a Hong Kong company, we are very proud to be able to provide carpet for the Hong Kong International Airport. We won the contract for our price and technical knowledge,” said Stephen Wong Jor-yang, Asia Pacific managing director for Tai Ping Carpets.
Among the list of technical requirements for the airport job was fire resistant carpets to ensure the safety of travellers, Wong told the South China Morning Post in an interview at his office where carpet materials and colour samples were seen laying around.
Tai Ping Carpets is one of the few Hong Kong home-grown luxury brands that have entered the world of palaces, luxury hotels, private jets and the homes of movie stars.
Established in 1956 by seven businessmen led by Lawrence Kadoorie of the famous Hong Kong business dynasty, the company initially provided jobs for skilled traditional carpet workers who came to Hong Kong as refugees from the mainland.
Six decades on and the Kadoorie family still owns a majority stake of Tai Ping Carpets, which was listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 1973. But what has changed in that time is the application of new technology to the design and production process.
“In the old days, designers had to draw the pattern by hand and we used projectors to show the pattern on the wall so workers could weave the carpet by hand. Nowadays, the designers use computers to do a mix and match for the pattern and colours, which is then printed out for the workers to work on,” Wong said.
This shortens the production time by two to three weeks and subsequently reduces production costs, he added.
The mix and matching of machines with skilled labour has also produced new products in the form of machine made carpets that also have handmade features which add character to the finished product.
“Overall, I believe the application of technology won’t replace our skilled workers whose handmade carpets are still sought-after by many customers, but the use of technology helps our staff finish the products faster, better and cheaper,” Wong said.
Tai Ping Carpets also applies technology to reduce pollution, specifically for the recycling of water in its factories in mainland China and Thailand.
“Our team also pays attention to logistics to cut down on transportation time and hence reduce pollution related to road traffic. This is why we need several factories in different locations,” Wong explained.
“The orders from the Macau casino operators would be handled by the factories in Guangdong while the ones from South East Asia would be handled by the Thailand factories,” he said.
Wong, who born in Hong Kong but studied high school and university in the US with a degree in finance, started his career in a office furniture company in Hong Kong. Although the salary was modest at HK$3,500 a month, the job gave him good training in sales and business development.
He joined Tai Ping Carpets in 2001 and has worked in several management roles before being promoted to his current post in 2016.
In 2016 the company recorded sales turnover of HK$1.33 billion (US$170 million), triple the HK$400 million achieved in 2000.
Wong said the key to success is having diversification of product lines and markets.
“Some segments such as the private jets and luxury yachts are recession proof because there are always demand for carpets for them. Hotels and offices may be more affected by number of travellers and economic cycles,” he said.
Traditionally, most carpet buyers like to have custom made carpets for their homes and offices, but there is an increasing number of customers who like to have ready made carpets they can see in the show room.
“We have to tailor make for the needs of these different customers,” he said.
The company has also evolved to cater for the new generation of shoppers who like to buy online.
“However, we found that many customers only visit the website for a preview of the carpet pattern and to get the address of our show room. They usually visit the shops to touch and feel the materials before making any orders,” Wong said.
“Buying a carpet for your home or yacht is still a very personal matter. Customers like to have detailed discussions with our sales team on what they want. I don’t believe online sales will replace our shops any time soon.”