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HK Magazine Archive

Meet the Man Who's Stroking Your Keys

China-made doesn't cut it for IT master Percy Lee. But Hello Kitty keyboards do.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:50pm

Tired of tapping away at your computer? You need a mechanical keyboard. Unlike the common electrical signal keyboard, it’s got spring-loaded switches under each key. Percy Lee runs mechanical keyboard shop Keyboard Hell.

He tells Adrienne Chum about humble beginnings, the shopping habits of Hongkongers and what his family thinks of his hobby.

HK Magazine: Why did you open a keyboard shop?
Percy Lee: A friend let me borrow a mechanical keyboard in around 2000, but you couldn’t buy one in Hong Kong back then. After trying it, I couldn’t go back to using a regular keyboard, and I began buying keyboards. I began paying more attention to the brands, the types of keyboards and they became my toys. Ten years later someone on a forum said that he didn’t buy keyboards online because he couldn’t try them. So I asked him: “If I opened a shop, would you buy from me?” He said yes. I wasn’t really serious about it at the time, but I was unemployed, so I opened a shop. It was just $2,000 a month in rent, so I thought I’d try it: The most important part was that I could play with the keyboards too.

HK: How was business?
PL: I expected to close down in a year—how would I sell so many keyboards? But I know how Hongkongers buy things: We have to try it out before we buy it because we are so afraid of being ripped off, especially because we can’t return the item to the store. It doesn’t matter how cheap or expensive the item is: You have to let them play with your product or they won’t buy it.

HK: Where do you get your keyboards from?
PL: I first started buying from China and Taiwan, but after a few months I found that Chinese stock was cheaper but their brands were unreliable and sometimes even unsellable, so I began only buying from Taiwan. Since nobody sold these things in Hong Kong, I talked to the companies and distributors around the world and became the sole importer for many brands. Representatives began stopping by to drop off their cards and samples to get their name out. East Asian companies give a lot of attention to the Hong Kong market: It isn’t about selling a lot of products, but getting their brand name, their image, out with a good reputation. If you can get a product to sell in Hong Kong, those companies have confidence that it will sell all over Asia.

HK: What’s wrong with Chinese brands?
PL: Ugh. I’ve gotten shipments with smashed packaging—I can’t sell those! The material is cheap and poor. Their quality control is minimal: They just need to get a signal to pass the test, and I’d reckon that out of 10, five or six have problems. Of course they are super cheap, maybe $500 each, whereas a Taiwanese brand would be around $800—but if a customer gets a crap keyboard, they’ll complain to the shop and it’s bad for the shop’s image. So I don’t sell them at all. I don’t even wanna touch them. My shop has standards!

HK: Does your whole family use mechanical keyboards?
PL: Not at all: We even have a Hello Kitty keyboard at home. I gave my wife a nice keyboard to use: She had no idea how expensive it was, and took it to work. An IT guy noticed her keyboard while passing by and commented on how expensive and nice it was, and asked her why she of all people would buy one. That was when she found out that I sell expensive things—that keyboard was more expensive than the computer on her desk! It was the only time she talked to me about my work.

HK: What does she think of your hobby?
PL: My wife doesn’t really care, even though I’ve filled our home with keyboards. First, we’ve been married for a long time, and second, the shop makes enough for us to live off of. Even if I take a day off, I don’t let my wife run the shop because I don’t want work to affect my family. I’m very democratic: If you like playing with Barbies, why would I force you to play with keyboards? If they have an interest, I’ll answer their questions, but I’ve never thought of this as a family business and I don’t want my kids to inherit the shop. I don’t want to deal with having a family business.

Need new keys? Visit Keyboard Hell at Golden Computer Arcade (New Wing), 1/F, Shop 21, 141A Kweilin St., Sham Shui Po, or find him online at tiny.cc/hk-keyboardhell.