Are Chinese manufacturers turning from copiers to innovators?

James Morgan, senior product manager with shower specialist Mira, has claimed Chinese manufacturers are turning from copiers to innovators and rapidly improving product quality.

Speaking to kbbreview at trade fair Kitchen and Bath China in Shanghai, Morgan said the event was now “one of the big three” global exhibitions that includes ISH in Germany and KBIS in the United States.

“The perception that only rubbish comes out of China is shot to bits,” Morgan insisted. “Don’t get me wrong, there is still a high percentage of dross but you can pick out some real jewels at a show like this as well. Quality has seriously improved, there is some stuff out there that’s better than you could source in Italy, Spain, France or Portugal.”

Morgan urged UK businesses to take a closer look at China for emerging product trends and said many companies were now offering genuine innovation. “They’ve gone beyond copying, they’re taking it to the next level,” he said. “There are two strands out here – European and a more American style.

“Some of these companies are starting to push the European style on. Some are plagiarising but others are creating things we haven’t seen before. I’ve got one of my design guys here who’s been impressed how cool and clever they’re being.

“They have good manufacturing capabilities and are starting to come on leaps and bounds. What’s helping them to innovate is the growth of the internet. It’s getting easier for them to develop products and they’re becoming more consumer savvy. More European businesses are coming to them and saying, ‘what can we do that’s similar but different?’ ”

Morgan said UK retailers might be surprised at the opportunities on offer at the show and urged them to consider attending. “If there aren’t a lot of retailers at this sort of show they need to start thinking about it. Some are already sourcing direct from here. There’s a lot of things here that they could look at and buy.

“I’ve never been to a trade show with so many people. It’s astounding, it’s huge, it’s probably bigger than ISH. “I’ve never been anywhere like it, there’s so much going on, there’s cottage industry everywhere. If you want it, someone’s making it, it’s astonishing. It’s exceedingly worthwhile to be here.”

Buyer Beware

Whilst Morgan suggests that there is a lot of poor quality coming from China but not all of it is dross, they key argument is that for the consumer there are going to be some winners but a lot of losers, who will be tempted by the cheapness and ultimately left paying a higher price through having an inferior product, not manufactured to European safety standards, or not getting the product at all.

In dealing with China as a consumer the risk is far greater as there simply isn’t any recourse if the deal goes sour. If you want a Wolex or an EyePhone far enough but when it comes to big ticket purchases such as a kitchen do you want a brand you know and trust, or do you want cheapness above all else?