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Taiwan's Garden Tool Makers Stand Tall with Market-driven R&D

Beating rivals by developing their own niches with innovative high-end products

Sep 03, 2013 | By Steve Chuang

Taiwan's garden tool manufacturers boast a consummate production capability and an abundance of experience that have given them a prominent status in the global market. Some of them stand out for strong, market-driven R&D efforts that have enabled them to keep growing every year.

Jiin Haur’s president, Neil Wu, is an industry veteran known for his ability to innovate.Jiin Haur’s president, Neil Wu, is an industry veteran known for his ability to innovate.

As consumers' behavior and preferences have gradually changed along with global economic fluctuations, social changes, and technological advancement, garden tools have been made lighter, eco-friendlier, and more multifunctional, so that they meet the needs of increasingly price-sensitive consumers as well as female and elderly DIY users and professionals.

When DIY International's managing editor Rainer Strnad gave a talk on “The Current Trends and Prospects of the European DIY Retailer Market” during the Taiwan Hardware Show a few years ago, he indicated that ecological products have become increasingly popular with European consumers. A survey carried out by his company showed that over 60% of consumers polled in German DIY stores were willing to pay more for eco-friendly products.

Jiin Haur’s Electric Grass Cutter has proven popular with DIY users in Japan.Jiin Haur’s Electric Grass Cutter has proven popular with DIY users in Japan.

Strnad also mentioned that senior citizens are one of the major drivers of growth in Europe's DIY and garden industries today. Statistics compiled by DIY International indicate that consumers aged 50 and older in Germany contributed 51.6% of total housekeeping sales of 61.6 billion euros in 2009, up from 46.5% in 2006. This growing consumer segment is fueling the market trend toward lightweight, easy-to-use garden tools.

In recent interviews with CENS, several high-profile Taiwanese manufacturers introduced their newest trend-following, and trend-setting products, and talked about their business strategies.

Electric Grass Cutter
Realizing that electric garden tools that are comparatively effortless and eco-friendly will lead the market as populations in developed countries age, while more and more women are working in backyards and gardens, Jiin Haur Industrial Co., Ltd., one of Taiwan's best-known suppliers in the line, has developed an electric grass cutter that conforms to market trends: the model JH-29.

President Neil Wu noted that his company was inspired to develop the new tool mainly by growing market demand for improvements in traditional grass cutters that are generally built with noisy, heavy gasoline engines that make them unsuitable for female and elderly users. Also, he went on to say, conventional models are mostly lacking in safety design and can easily cause serious injuries to incautious users.

Lu Shyong’s manager, K.C. Lin, talks about his company’s newest hot water cleaning machine.Lu Shyong’s manager, K.C. Lin, talks about his company’s newest hot water cleaning machine.

Jiin Haur's electric grass cutter is powered by a battery, and so has no cord or gas-consuming engine. It has a miniature motor with a maximum rotating speed of 15,000 rpm and a compact body made of aluminum along with a handle of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), so it is eco-friendly, quiet, and lightweight. “The tool weighs only around 1 kilogram, including the battery,” says Wu, “and the battery has a capacity of 1,500mA, so it is able to operate continuously for over one hour after around two hours of charging.”

Chin Kuei director Christy Chang expounds on her company’s cutting-edge advantages.Chin Kuei director Christy Chang expounds on her company’s cutting-edge advantages.

For enhanced safety and utility, Wu went on, the grass cutter is specially designed with not just a safety lock on the handle, but also a weed stuck plate and protection plate near the blades that are easily replaceable and available in two materials, SK5 steel and strengthened nylon. The weed stuck plate has a sun-like shape for holding long weeds for easier cutting, while the protection plate is a fan-shaped cover alongside the blades that protects users from the danger of rotating blades and flying stones. Plus, the motor is housed in heat-resistant plastic coupled with a ventilation outlet, and the tube is subjected to special anodizing treatment to boost electrical safety.

The 950mm tube is connected to the handle at an angle designed to address ergonomic concerns, allowing for incredibly comfortable use, according to Wu. “In short,” he comments, “the electric grass cutter features greater mobility, safety, utility, and eco protection. It took us a year and a half to develop it, and it has proven to be a hot-seller; shipments in the first half of this year, mostly to Japan, have already exceeded 20,000 units, and the volume is expected to double starting next year when we will launch an improved version suitable for Western users.”

Lu Shyong’s Eco Rechargeable Long Reach Hedge Trimmer is targeted at professional users.Lu Shyong’s Eco Rechargeable Long Reach Hedge Trimmer is targeted at professional users.

World-caliber Manufacturer
Founded in 1977 in the central-Taiwan county of Changhua, Jiin Haur has devoted itself to the production of garden cutters and has built a solid reputation for its time-tested OEM (original equipment manufacturing) and ODM (original design manufacturing) capability.

Jiin Hau has built its image on R&D competency. Using advanced computer technologies such as AutoCad, UG, and Solidwork, and its accumulated knowledge of markets and garden tools, the company can release 10 to 15 new models every year to help customers expand their market share.

6.	Chin Kuei was officially honored for its impressive wall pot decorations at the Taipei International Garden and Horticulture Exposition in 2010.6. Chin Kuei was officially honored for its impressive wall pot decorations at the Taipei International Garden and Horticulture Exposition in 2010.

Following decades of development, Jiin Haur is today Taiwan's biggest maker of garden cutters, with a monthly output of 450,000 units. Its product portfolio comprehends a variety of long-reach pruners, pruning shears, grass shears, tool racks, drop-forged pruners, razors, scissors, and battery-powered motorized shears and cordless screwdrivers, all of which are certificated by GS, VDE, UL, and CE standards.

Currently, 35% of the firm's products go to the U.S., 50% to Europe, and the remainder to other countries. Some are sold under Jiin Haur's own “Praise” brand, while others are sold carrying globally known brands by prominent customers such as Corona, Costco, Fiskars, Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's, Sears, and Bauhaus.

“Despite the economic meltdown in Europe, Jiin Haur enjoyed continuing growth last year, thanks mostly to our distinct profile in the global market,” says Wu. To boost its global competitiveness even further, he reported, the company will kick off construction of a brand-new factory alongside its exiting headquarters at the end of this year at the earliest.

Rechargeable Long Reach Hedge Trimmer
Lu Shyong Machinery Industry Co., Ltd., a supplier of pumps and garden cutting tools, launched its Eco Rechargeable Long Reach Hedge Trimmer to ride the global wave of eco-protection sentiment.

Company manager K.C. Lin described the trimmer as employing a high-performance motor powered by a rechargeable battery pack, and as having an ergonomically designed shoulder belt. The pole is telescopic and can be extended up to 3 meters for easier cutting of twigs and branches. Lin said that the pole features a patented structural design and the battery is built with a special electronic control unit, both of which give the trimmer a longer lifespan.

“This tool has been heavily ordered by an European customer for trimming olive trees, and its excellent features, including low noise, easy operation, stability, safety, and effortless use, are helpful in enhancing working efficiency,” says Lin, adding that the product offers lead acid and lithium battery options and is suitable for gardening, and fruit farming, and landscape management.

7.	Yong Yen’s chairman, K.S. Huang, feels that constant investment is the key to a contract manufacturer’s sustainable development.7. Yong Yen’s chairman, K.S. Huang, feels that constant investment is the key to a contract manufacturer’s sustainable development.

As a specialized supplier of pumps, Lu Shyong has also developed a “Hot Water” series of cleaning machines. Lin emphasizes that factory and workshop cleaning using hot water is common in Europe and the U.S., but, mainly for reasons of climate, not in Southeast Asia. “In fact,” he stresses, “using hot water to clean greasy instruments and restaurant floors, and to wash cars, is more efficient and sanitary.” Lin went on to say that his company, which focuses mostly on the Southeast Asian market, decided to launch such cleaning machines to exploit the growth potential in Southeast Asia.

The cleaning machines incorporate the company's high-end pumps, which feature high-quality ceramic plungers, ceramic bypass valves, and vertical stainless steel boilers supplied by an Italian partner. The machines are designed with a total-stop system composed of a spray gun control, safety pressure switch, and overload valve that can automatically shut down either the pump or the boiler in case of malfunction. With a high-capacity 14-liter tank and a 6-liter detergent tank, as well as a heavy-duty antirust plastic vessel base and four heavy-duty plastic wheels, the machine has excellent mobility and high utility.

Yong Yen is equipped with more than 40 CNC lathes, plastic extrusion machines, and other kinds of equipment.Yong Yen is equipped with more than 40 CNC lathes, plastic extrusion machines, and other kinds of equipment.

Making Pumps for Over 20 Years
Located in the central-Taiwan city of Taichung and with more than 20 years of experience, Lu Shyong supplies a variety of pumps for agricultural equipment, cleaning machines, and related accessories. It enjoys ISO 9000 and 9001 certification.

The company's global competitiveness is mainly driven by its high skill at aluminum die casting and CNC machining, which enables it to independently develop and produce a wide range of agricultural and gardening equipment including power sprayers, knapsack sprayers, sprayers with built-in rechargeable batteries, portable power sprayers, high-pressure cleaning machines, high-pressure industrial pumps, fogging machines, air coolers, diaphragm pumps, brush cutters, power tillers, spray guns, washing guns, nozzles, pullers, hose reels, hoses, extension rods, and twirl preventers.

Lu Shyong is capable of supplying about 6,000 units of agricultural products, together with related accessories, every month. More than 70% of its output is exported to Asia, the Middle East, America, and Europe, some on an OEM and ODM basis and some under the company's own “Whalebest” and “Lu Shyong” brands

“Our company experienced an abrupt decline in June this year, after five months of robust growth, primarily because of foreign currency fluctuations,” reports Lin. “However, thanks mainly to our successful market diversification and industry-leading R&D strategies, our July revenues rebounded significantly.”

Lin went on to say that to survive in the increasingly competitive market, Taiwanese companies must concentrate more on R&D and market trends, and carve out their own niches by supplying unique, marketable products instead of using pricing to compete with emerging rivals. “This is why,” he comments, “Lu Shyong emphasizes speedy, market-leading R&D, and is undaunted in exploring uncharted territories.” Following years of concentration on the Asian market, he revealed, in coming years his company will switch its focus to East Europe and Africa, where the market potential for agricultural equipment is even stronger than previously expected.

Bio-sourced Gardening Materials
Since bio-sourced plastic that is degradable and environmentally friendly has become increasingly popular among manufacturing industries worldwide, Chin Kuei Co., Ltd., a seasoned maker and exporter of gardening materials such as flowerpots, wall pots, nursery pots, flower pans, nursery frames, pot holders, and trolleys, focuses its efforts on developing gardening products made of bio-sourced materials.

Chin Kuei director Christy Chang indicates that her company has been inspired by market trends to work out a series of plant pots and related containers made of corn starch and eco-friendly plastic. Featuring vivid colors and high durability, some of these products have been adopted by large food service providers and flower growers in Taiwan.

“Chin Kuei uses mostly PP (polypropylene) and recycled plastics in production, and has recently tried to use different eco-friendly materials to develop new products in an effort to provide customers the most diverse possible product lineup to meet the demands of end-users,” says Chang, adding that her company's R&D work is based mainly on market observation.

Meanwhile, Chang added, the company has also continuously developed large-sized, functional gardening materials and products to broaden its product range in line with the ever-changing market. “In the face of underselling competition,” she explains, “we have invested considerably in molds and machinery over the past few years to diversify our range of products. In other words, we aim to become a gardening solution provider.”

Chang says that ever since its founding in Miaoli County, central Taiwan in 1989, the company has grown steadily to become one of the leading gardening material suppliers in Taiwan with products that are marketed under its own “CK” brand at home and abroad.

Transforming into Gardening Materials
To say that Chin Kuei's current success is built primarily on a keen sensitivity to the market pulse, along with abundant know-how, is not to overstate the case.

The company started life by engaging in plastic blow molding to make medical products such as urine collection containers, and a few years later resolved to venture into plastic injection molding and enter the gardening materials segment, which at the time was just about to take off.

“In the very beginning our company focused on filling government tenders, and it delivered 10 million urine collection containers annually. That gave us a stable growth rate, but a not huge one,” says Chang. “So we wanted to transform our business, and a few years later we decided to work on gardening materials. That was when plastic plant pots began replacing traditional models made of ceramics for economic reasons.”

Also, Chang states, that was when plant growers started moving from northern Taiwan to the central region because of the milder climate there. That emigration contributed to agricultural development in central Taiwan, boosting Chang's confidence in her new business.

“Later on” she continues, “we drew on our knowledge of botany and plant nutrition and growth to gradually expand our product mix and help customers develop gardening materials for different plants. That built up our success in the line. Today, we specialize not just in OBM (original brand manufacturing), but also in OEM and ODM.”

Chang says that to assure continuing growth, the company is thinking about setting up a logistics warehouse this year in the Taiwan Orchid Plantation, an industrial park for orchid growers situated in Tainan, southern Taiwan. Since Taiwan is globally known for the orchids it grows, which can match those from the Netherlands and have been one of the drivers of Chin Kuei's growth, Chang says, “Having a logistics warehouse there can further fuel our company's business, for sure.” With its strong manufacturing and marketing capabilities, Chin Kuei is moving steadfastly toward its goal of becoming a world-class supplier of gardening materials.

Constant Investment
Yong Yen Material Co., Ltd., a specialized maker of gardening accessories and parts such as garden hoses, brass nozzles, brass connector sets, valves, and sprinklers, knows the importance of production capability to a contract manufacturer, and so constantly invests in the upgrading of its manufacturing equipment.

“To achieve sustainable development,” says chairman K.S. Huang, “Yong Yen has concentrated on expanding its production capacity, and this has helped us to maintain booming growth in the first half of this year. Another factor is our strong attention to quality and delivery.”

With more than two decades in the business, Yong Yen has developed into a major parts supplier for local garden instrument makers in Changhua County. Huang says that his company now uses over 40 sets of CNC lathes and some 10 plastic injection machines in its factories, enabling it to provide timely, customer-oriented manufacturing services. At present, parts shipped to the garden product industry take up half of Yong Yen's overall output.

Huang does not believe that the current uncertainty in the global market will hamper his company's continuing investment in the strengthening of manufacturing capacity and capability. “In tough times,” he explains, “customers are prone to be more cautious in selecting contract suppliers, and only companies that can show strong competitiveness are likely to land orders.” To assure its competitiveness, even in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2009, the company firmly continued its investment in new machines.

Thanks mainly to its consistent commitment to the upgrading of production capability, Huang sys, his company has braced itself against market changes, including the U.S.'s move to restrict lead-containing parts for drinking equipment starting in 2014. “We're capable of handling lead-free copper,” he states, “so we are confident of our prospects in the years to come.”

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