13 Oct 2017
Malaysia Bids to be ASEAN Corporate Gifts Creation and Production Hub
With corporate gift-giving once again resurgent, exhibitors at this year's Malaysia Gifts Fair were confident that the country could carve a niche for itself at the very heart of this rapidly expanding and innovation-hungry sector.
Gift-giving has long been a part of Asia's corporate culture. Of late, though, this practice has evolved beyond merely currying favour with existing and potential clients. Instead, it is frequently also resorted to as a way of incentivising and retaining staff as the global market becomes ever more competitive. As well as this enhanced demand, while many global firms and their agents have long sourced their gift products from Southeast Asia, many are now looking to companies in the region for concept creation and design as well.
Globally, the personalised-gifts market is projected to grow at an average rate of 9% over 2017-2021. This expansion comes at a time when the gifts industry is also undergoing a number of fundamental changes – most notably, a surge in the level of online sampling and ordering, increasing demand for personalisation and customisation, and expanding requirements for gifts themed around festivals and celebrations. Many gift-product suppliers are also reporting growing demand in the business-to-consumer (B2C) sector, traditionally a poor relation compared with the business-to-business (B2B) sector.
Against this rapidly evolving backdrop, the Malaysia Gifts Fair sought to highlight its host country's credentials as a truly creative centre of gift design and production. Rebranded from its previous incarnation as the Kuala Lumpur International Gifts, Premium & Stationery Fair, the intention is now to establish it as "ASEAN's largest and most innovative gifts and premium fair", at least according to Alan Ong Yeow Fooi, the President of the Malaysia Gifts & Premium Association, the show's organisers.
The event, however, faces tough competition within the region. Seoul and Taipei annually host well-established expos focusing on the gifts sector, while Hong Kong is home to the HKTDC Gifts and Premium Fair, the world's largest such event and one with a 32-year heritage.
In the case of this year's Malaysian event, around 80% of the exhibitors were locally based, although a significant number also had sourcing and sales operations in Hong Kong and/or mainland China. Tellingly, some 20% of the companies in attendance viewed the Malaysian market as an add-on to their existing Southeast Asia operations.
One exhibitor, Kuala Lumpur-based Kryash, already has representation in both Hong Kong and China. This year, though, it was attending the expo to promote its range of denim-, cork- and leather-bound notebooks, as well as its custom-branded powerbanks.
Summarising the current state of the Malaysian market, Sonia Haresh Mirchandani Shivnani, the company's Managing Director, said: "Things are changing and becoming far more challenging. Competition is intensifying and people are looking more for IT and electronics-related gifts."
One of the most strikingly designed stands at the event came courtesy of Selangor-based Bluedge, which had opted for 1920s' style Chinese ads and Shanghai Art Deco icons as the backdrop to its diverse range of tech-based gifts. With operations in Malaysia and Shenzhen, the company designs and manufactures Bluetooth speakers, wireless chargers and more than 300 different USB flash drives, all of which can be customised with any client's required branding.
Expanding upon his own company's experience of the market, Business Development Manager Jamy Chew said: "Demand is particularly high for tech items and gadgets at the moment. For our part, we have provided customised gift products for clients across Asia, including companies in China, India and Hong Kong. We have also worked with a wide range of businesses in Malaysia, Germany, Canada, the US, Kenya and Dubai."
While high-tech gifts clearly predominated, there was still plenty of room at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre to showcase a number of more traditional items, including perfumes, eco-friendly gifts, toys and practical everyday products. Taking a lead on the scent front was Aroma Solutions, a Kuala Lumpur-based importer of the Parisine perfume collection and the Airtec range of micron fragrance diffusion products, all which are manufactured in France by the AAM Group.
Explaining the appeal of these imported items, ES Tan, a Product Consultant with Aroma Solutions, said: "The Airtec fragrance diffuser releases pure essential oils, including the exquisite scents jasmine and lavender. These can then be used to help build a brand identity for hotels, malls, restaurants or showrooms, while also adding to the luxury feel of such establishments and helping to attract repeat visitors."
Carrying the flag for the green sector was Singapore-based Husk's Ware, which was keen to showcase its range of customisable kitchenware and tableware, all crafted from biodegradable rice husks. The company first came to prominence when it created a wholly natural range of official merchandise for the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore. More recently, it has secured the services of Martin Yan, the Chinese-American celebrity chef, as its brand ambassador.
Emphasising the company's environmental credentials, General Manager Joanne Ee said: "Our green products actually help reduce CO2, with not a single tree cut down or edible plant compromised as part of our manufacturing process. We also comply with the strict non-toxicity requirements of a number of key markets, including the EU, Switzerland, Japan and China, which has seen us develop a truly international client base.
"Closer to home, while the market in Southeast East Asia is now developing, it is at a far slower rate than in Europe, where recycling and environmental protection are pretty much a way of life. There are signs of progress here too, though. In Malaysia, for instance, real efforts are being made to reduce the number of plastic bags used by consumers."
Heading the charge for the cuddly toy brigade was another Singaporean business – Sasha's Teddy Bears and Soft Toys. Proudly promoting its wares under a banner reading: "We all need a hug sometimes," Sasha's was showcasing its range of soft toys and festive event hampers, many of which have already made customised appearances for several well-known brands, including Mitsubishi, Subaru and Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
Outlining its aspirations in the Malaysian market, Leong Soo Yin, the company's General Manager, said: "Although we have been established in Singapore since 1993, we have only recently opened a local office here as a way of boosting our profile. While this is our first time at this show, we have had a very encouraging welcome."
Taking a more everyday approach was Kuala Lumpur-based Modern Gift, a specialist producer of corporately branded umbrellas, items that are pretty much essential given the tropical rainstorms that are an almost daily occurrence in the country.
Highlighting the company's USP, Founder Lee Teng Xhuen said: "We believe we spotted a gap in the market as there are many Malaysian businesses offering customisable umbrellas as corporate gifts. Our entire range – from our large golf umbrellas to our lightweight handbag-sized plastic-fibre umbrellas – can be tailored to the exact requirements of any client."
Perhaps as a sign of the maturing nature of the sector, one company – Pulau Pinang-based Gift Solutions – was looking to end the industry's traditional reliance on face-to-face sales, believing the time was right to take a more digital approach. Explaining how this would work in practice, Company Director Junior Low said: "We aim to be Malaysia's leading online corporate gifts marketplace. To that end, we want to create a service that will allow customers and suppliers to enjoy the same benefits shoppers do when using Alibaba or Lazada.
"Typically, Malaysian clients are quite price sensitive and often order in small quantities. We think that allowing them to manage the whole process online – from uploading their designs to sampling, placing orders and arranging delivery – will be an attractive proposition."
With facilities in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Bahru, Gift Solutions currently custom-brands ceramic tableware and glassware for a number of high-profile clients including Mercedes-Benz, Chatime, Subway and Amway. Following the September launch of its new online marketplace, it hopes to expand into sales of apparel, leather goods, electronics and sportswear.
The Malaysia Gifts Fair 2017 was held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from 5-7 July.
Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Kuala Lumpur