Riding the big wave

Updated: 2012-09-21 13:31

By Cecily Liu (China Daily)

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Localization challenge

While a certain extent of Chinese culture is observable in all Chinese companies abroad, the most successful companies often deliberately pursue localization policies.

One such example is the fully-owned UK subsidiary of the Chinese lighting giant NVC, which supplies industrial lighting to wholesalers.

Out of about 85 employees at its Birmingham factory, only three are Chinese, whose main job is to liaise with NVC's China factory on the dispatch of product orders.

Gerry Pass, managing director of NVC UK, said the parent company has invested heavily to help its UK subsidiary grow, but at the same time also allowed its British executives to make their own decisions.

"China supplies the financial muscle, but we operate as a UK company," says Pass, who has worked in the British lighting industry for 25 years after joining NVC UK in 2009.

He added that the salary and employment benefits that NVC UK offers its employees is higher than the packages offered by many British companies. For example, NVC UK contributes to its employees' pensions and finances their further studies wherever appropriate.

The company's localization strategy has reaped rich rewards. As a young business established in 2007, NVC UK already supplies to about 1,500 out of the 3,500 electrical wholesalers in the UK, Pass says.

"Wholesalers generally ask us to step in, when things go wrong with other suppliers, but hopefully they'll make us their first choice next time," Pass says, explaining that NVC UK's key competitors are the 84-year-old Thorn Lighting and the 34-year-old Dextra Lighting.

In April, the company added an industrial unit, which brought its total investment in Britain to 15 million pounds ($24 million, 18 million euros).

It is now looking to expand its production facilities further, shifting from its current model of manufacturing in China and assembling in the UK to manufacturing in the UK.

"Manufacturing in the UK will allow us to respond to customer needs more quickly," Pass says, adding that manufacturing in the UK can potentially halve the time it takes to deliver a product, especially when the product is a new one and requires several rounds of product testing.

NVC UK's local presence has been a key factor in its success, says Paul Mans, managing director of CP Electronics, a British company that supplies censors to NVC UK.

"The biggest issue with importing products from China is not knowing if potential problems can be sorted out. Since NVC has a large office in the UK with employees who have the technical expertise to help customers, it reassures people that potential problems can be sorted out," Mans says.

 Riding the big wave

SAIC Motor's production of MG cars in the UK. The group acquired the British carmaker in 2005. Provided to China Daily

Right fit

Another Chinese company that is championing a localization strategy is Bosideng, a Chinese down apparel manufacturer that recently opened its first international flagship store in London.

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Despite being a Chinese brand, Bosideng's UK collection is the work of well-known British designers Nick Holland and Ash Gangotra, who have previously worked with Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher and his label Pretty Green.

Most of the items sold in Bosideng's London store are manufactured in Europe, using raw material from 15 different suppliers across Italy, Turkey and Portugal.

Only 7 percent of the products are manufactured in Bosideng's Chinese outlets and even these items are quite different from the Bosideng China collection.

"We've created that twist of inventiveness," says Jason Denmark, director of retail operations, Bosideng UK, as he points to a red down coat, recognizable as Bosideng at first glance, but distinctive for having added shoulder pieces and elbow pads in tweed - a popular material in British fashion.

He says that the tweed fabric is sourced in Europe, shipped to China, stitched onto the coat and then shipped back to the London store. This emphasis on European quality has made Bosideng's store in central London popular with customers from all around the world.

Sharing NVC and Bosideng's philosophy is SAIC Motor Corp, which acquired British car manufacturer MG Rover in 2005.

Although much of the manufacturing shifted back to China following the acquisition, research and development, design and final assembly are still done in the UK to satisfy local customer demand.

"Our job in the design studio is to make sure that we follow the trend globally, we follow the quality globally, and we know what the taste of the trend is globally," says Martin Uhlarik, SAIC's UK design director.