Success on the cards
Takon's Jerry Lee and Joe Wong are adding a new dimension to souvenirs, writes Wong Yat-hei.
With more and more people using social and other digital media to connect with each other, few send postcards anymore. Two young product designers, however, have given new life to this fading form of communication. Jerry Lee Tak-chun and Joe Wong Man-hon, co-founders of Takon Product Development - a business that specialises in making souvenirs - have dazzled the market with the creation of greeting cards with 3D artwork that represent Hong Kong culture.
Lee and Wong both graduated from Polytechnic University with degrees in product analysis and engineering design. They decided to start their own business to show the world the essence of Hong Kong culture.
"Our city is more than a place for visitors to shop," says Lee, the marketing director of the company. "It has many stories that are worth sharing. There are a lot of Hong Kong icons besides Bruce Lee and the Chinese junk. We want visitors to take something about Hong Kong culture back home with them, so we came up with the idea of three-dimensional, pop-up greeting cards that feature icons of Hong Kong like the lucky bun, rickshaw, bamboo theatre and many more."
With limited capital and no business experience, they turned to incubation projects for help. "We joined a business start-up support project, Youth Business Hong Kong, organised by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG). Beside loans, their panel of business high-flyers gave us many useful tips on how to run a business, like how to handle taxes and budgeting," Lee says.
Wong, the company's creative director, is the mastermind behind the designs. "We are serious about being a business that is 100 per cent 'made in Hong Kong'," he says. "All our products are made in sheltered workshops in Sham Shui Po. It takes extra effort to train the workers and I have to be careful with the materials and the tools they work with, so they won't hurt themselves. But all this is worth it, because we are true to our core value as a Hong Kong business and it is a way for us to give back to the community."
Limited capital meant Lee and Wong were not able to start production straight away, despite the designs proving popular. "We started out designing brochures and other products for clients," Lee says. "Developing a product involves heavy investment and takes a long time, so we began with a design service in the hope of building up our reputation."
Their big break came when showcasing 3D greeting cards at an entrepreneurship day organised by the HKFYG. "Our products earned high praise from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and they invited us to display them in their gallery," Lee says. "This was a huge boost to our reputation. Soon we were displaying our products on the shelves of major bookstores and in hotel gift shops. Now we have more than 70 outlets for our products and the list keeps growing."
Their decision to start a souvenirs business was a well-supported one. "When we were employees, we found out that a good way to start to export products to the rest of the world was through gifts and souvenirs," Lee says. "Because Hong Kong runs some of the biggest exhibitions for gifts and souvenirs, we can access buyers from around the world without having to travel."
Their idea has caught the attention of buyers from around the world. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York commissioned us to make bookmarks for them after seeing our bookmarks inspired by Chinese partitions," Lee says. "The Eiffel Tower paper model is one of our bestsellers - buyers from the Middle East love them."
Taking their products onto the global stage is the plan for Takon, but it is no easy task. "We are grateful to the mentors of our incubation projects, who are veteran businessmen," Lee says. "They taught us a lot about the laws and tax systems relating to exporting products to different countries. They also gave us their insights on the market, which is invaluable to green hands like us."
While Lee says the support they received was key to getting started, he stresses that persistence and the ability to overcome hardship is essential to successfully running a business. "People who are planning to start their own business need to understand that the support from incubation projects is not going to take you to the promised land - they key is being proactive," he says. "Pick the brains of [your] mentors for business advice. There is no boss or superior to help you - you must not give up when you face an obstacle."
With 3D paper art turning into a hot trend, there have been many copycats of Takon's products. Lee and Wong see this as recognition of their success, rather than a threat.
"Consumers only appreciate original ideas," Lee says. "The creator of the new idea is the innovator and copycats are always going to be copycats. We are always a step ahead of the copycats, so we are not worried about competition from them."