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Premium Stationery Products Win Out Against Digital Competitors

With digital products all the rage, it was refreshing to see upmarket traditional paper-based items stealing the show at this year's Guangzhou Stationery Fair, while multi-function items also found considerable favour among many mainlanders.

Photo: Upmarket and multi-functional: The DelGuard mechanical pencil.
Upmarket and multi-functional: The DelGuard mechanical pencil.
Photo: Upmarket and multi-functional: The DelGuard mechanical pencil.
Upmarket and multi-functional: The DelGuard mechanical pencil.

It was the luxury end of the spectrum that proved particularly popular at this year's Guangzhou Stationery Fair. Mainland consumers, it seems, are also strangely drawn to multi-functional products, while – going against the digital grain – writing materials seemed to be on offer on virtually every stand.

As well as its traditional strongholds of stationery and student supplies, this year the show expanded its remit to include sporting goods and creative craft products. Writing supplies were ubiquitous this year, with upscale stationery items particularly in demand. The addition of certain cultural and creative characters to a variety of stationery products also seemed to strike a chord with both consumers and trade buyers.

Strong Demand for Stationery

Photo: Erasers from Faber-Castell.
Erasers from Faber-Castell.
Photo: Erasers from Faber-Castell.
Erasers from Faber-Castell.

According to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, sales in the cultural, educational and office supplies sector totalled RMB97.08 billion in 2015, a year-on-year growth of some 9.3%. With 300 million consumers in China aged 20 or below, their collective per annum spend on stationery products is more than RMB100 billion, equivalent to 40% of the total global spend on stationery. At present, sales in this sector are also growing by a healthy 10% a year.

Both domestic and overseas exhibitors seemed largely positive about stationery prospects on the mainland. In the opinion of many, mainland consumers are showing an increased interest in upscale stationery products. It was no surprise then that many visitors were attracted to those stands showcasing the premium end of the market.

As a subsidiary of Germany's Faber-Castell Group, A.W. Faber-Castell (Guangzhou) Stationery is primarily focussed on the production of quality erasers, oil pastels, wax crayons, plastic crayons, pencil sharpeners, ballpoint pens, mechanical pencils and leads. According to Huang Jianming, a Sales Executive with the company, its products are targetted at the higher end of the market, with its coloured pencils, in particular, well-regarded by mainland consumers. In 2015, according to the company's own figures, its annual turnover grew by an impressive 30%.

As well as German brands, Japanese stationery products are also currently selling well across the mainland. Ye Guanqiang, the President of one Guangdong-based office supplies company, said: "We expect that a number of the upmarket Japanese stationery brands we distribute will do great business across the mainland this year."

Photo: Genvana: Targetting the premium sector.
Genvana: Targetting the premium sector.
Photo: Genvana: Targetting the premium sector.
Genvana: Targetting the premium sector.

"Today, students still have a considerable demand for stationery, while their interest in premium products has also increased notably over the years. In view of the sheer size of the China market and the rapid increase in demand for high-end stationery, a number of our Japanese stationery brands have increased their investment in R&D to ensure their products meet the needs of mainlanders."

In line with the move upmarket by imported brands, domestic brands are also starting to target the premiums sector. Li Ping, a Sales Representative for Guangdong Genvana Stationery, said his company's products extend from low-mid range to high-end items. His company is also increasing its R&D spend in a bid to improve the quality of its products, with the aim of competing directly with the imported brands.

High Quality and Multi-function

This year, the fair was once again home to dazzling array of innovative stationery products, with many items offering a variety of functions. According to Huang, Faber-Castell's art products have built a solid reputation on the mainland. Typically, its best-selling water-soluble colour pencil range offers two products in one. A drawing created using its coloured pencils can be transformed into a watercolour painting just by dabbing the original pencil marks with water. The colour pencils come in various sizes and are available in packs of 12, 24, 36 or 48 colours.

Huang added that the company's water-soluble colour pencils are made using unique break-resistant technology. As an experiment, the company had earlier dropped its pencil range from a height of 20m. When they were subsequently cut open and examined, it was found that all the cores remained intact, proving both their quality and their reliability. All of the company's pencils are made using non-polluting water-based environment-friendly paints.

Photo: Connector Pens from Faber-Castell.
Connector Pens from Faber-Castell.
Photo: Connector Pens from Faber-Castell.
Connector Pens from Faber-Castell.
Photo: Star attraction: The Uni Mitsubishi stand.
Star attraction: The Uni Mitsubishi stand.
Photo: Star attraction: The Uni Mitsubishi stand.
Star attraction: The Uni Mitsubishi stand.

The company also had its range of Connector Pens on show. Their specially-designed caps allow these watercolour pens to be hooked up to one another, creating an endless number of variations, while still being easy to wipe away. Using these pens, children can not only draw, but can also assemble various models in the style of building block toys, an innovation that helps to develop their motor skills and creativity. The Connector Pens also use non-toxic inks that can be washed off most fabrics.

Photo: Pencils from Uni Mitsubishi.
Pencils from Uni Mitsubishi.
Photo: Pencils from Uni Mitsubishi.
Pencils from Uni Mitsubishi.

Another exhibitor at the fair, Hongye, a Dongguan-based trading company, had opted to highlight the range of pens it distributes on behalf of Japan's Uni Mitsubishi Group. According to Huang Chongxi, the company's representative at the show, its best-selling item is a Uni Mitsubishi UB150 ballpoint pen. The key sales point of this pen is its waterproof design, an attribute that stops writing from being smeared, even when wet. Aside from its special waterproof feature, the pen can write for more than 1,000m before it dries up, with its ink designed to be fully used up without any clogging occurring. Huang also explained the ink used in Uni Mitsubishi pens is a paint rather than a dye, something that explains its unusual lustre.

Hongye also had on offer a multifunctional pen from Uni Mitsubishi. This instrument can accommodate five different varieties of core at the same time, including pencil leads, medium oil-based cores and gel cores. Its gel cores come in 14 colours and with a range of writing point sizes – 0.28mm, 0.38mm and 0.5mm.

For users of mechanical pencils, lead breakage has long been a common complaint. The DelGuard, though, a new anti-break lead pencil launched by Zebra Pen (Shenzhen) Co, tackles this particular problem head on.

According to Xia Enjuan, the company's Sales Representative, this range has two springs installed at the upper and lower parts of the pencil tip. If excessive force is exerted during writing, the upper spring will absorb the pressure at the tip, drawing the lead back and preventing it from breaking. The lower spring also has a similar anti-break function. When a mechanical pencil lead starts to run out it can often get stuck inside the core tube, but the DelGuard prevents such problems, ensuring the lasting stability of the writing process.

Wide Ranging, Attractive Designs

A variety of colours and core sizes was again on offer thanks to the JJ150 series of gel pens, the centrepiece of the Zebra Pen stand. The range's nibs come in a wide choice of sizes – 0.3mm, 0.4mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm and 1.0mm and, aside from the 1.0mm option, they are available in a choice of 37 colours, including nine metallic options and eight pastels. The pens are also environmentally-friendly, with their cores guaranteed not to contaminate the environment once disposed of.

Photo: Metal-boxed colour pencils from Marco.
Metal-boxed colour pencils from Marco.
Photo: Metal-boxed colour pencils from Marco.
Metal-boxed colour pencils from Marco.

According to Xia, the company has also launched a range of products featuring anime and other animation characters. One of its pens, for instance, features Kumamon, the ever-popular Japanese bear. Pens featuring the character were well received across the mainland, with the company's stock quickly running out.

On its own, the Uni Mitsubishi brand offers more than 1,000 variants, ensuring there is something to match every customer's preference. Every year, the brand is committed to launching new products made of new materials, while also utilising the latest technology.

Among the other high spots of this year's show was the Marco brand of colour pencils on offer from Jinzhicheng. These came packaged in beautiful metal boxes, complete with artistic prints. Also worth a look was the range of paints bought to the event by Guangzhou-based Magi-Wap Culture Articles. These included fast-drying oil paints, classic oil paints and artist grade pigments. Then, last but clearly not least, was the intelligent binding machine on offer from Guangzhou's Gimad. Many attendees were said to be impressed by the laser-guided precision of its binding facility.

The Guangzhou Stationery Fair 2016 was held at the Poly World Trade Expo Centre Pazhou from 1-2 July.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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