Sham Shui Po, best known for its electronics accessories street market and second-hand goods, is also a haven for wholesalers and other retailers.
Shoppers looking for good bargains can find almost everything in the neighborhood, including clothes, shoes, used appliances and old books.
But the area, as is the case with other parts of Hong Kong, has seen many traditional shops disappear over the years. Among them are stores offering household supplies.
In the old days, there were more than a hundred household supplies stores along just one road — Ki Lung Street. But today, only a handful of those old shops still survive.
Among those that have managed to beat the odds is Ki Hing Trading Company.
Established in 1978 by Wan Yau-ki and his wife Wong Yuet-hing, the shop has passed on to the next generation of the family, with son Terry Wan and daughter-in-law Eunice running the show now.
Ki Hing played a key role in uniting the young couple. Eunice’s father, a restaurant owner, used to buy his supplies from Terry’s father.
The two men became good friends, which eventually paved the way for a marital alliance between the two families.
Terry has been running Ki Hing after returning to Hong Kong following professional accountancy studies in Australia.
He points out that wholesale trading business has been generally declining over the past decade.
“The business model has been changing dramatically, with manufacturers directly contacting the retailers. The role of middlemen played by the wholesalers seems to have vanished. Right now, Taobao also works more or less the same.”
That said, he insists that wholesale trading is not dead completely.
“While many say wholesale trading is dead, I don’t think so. It is undeniable that the business is not as flourishing as it used to be, but demand for it is still there,” Terry says.
“Many social enterprises would only need a small supply but a variety of products. Manufacturers normally won’t accept such purchase orders, but we do. That’s how we can continue our business.”
Ki Hing works like a semi-social enterprise, which will help it to continue serving the neighborhood, Terry added.
He points out that many of the loyal customers are elderly people or people with disabilities who live on their own. They make some purchases, say HK$1,000 worth products at Ki Hing, and resell the goods in the streets.
At present, around forty percent of goods sold by Ki Hing come from the mainland, while the rest come from Japan, Europe, etc.
Surprisingly, quite a few unique products are still sourced from Hong Kong, including locks, towels, socks and lighters.
Running a physical store is much costlier than operating a virtual outlet on the Internet. Though the costs are higher, it is still worth maintaining a brick-and-mortar shop as such facility will offer reassurance to customers, says Eunice.
“We wouldn’t cheat our customers about the origin of the products. If it is something from Japan, we will tell so to customers. If it is made in China, we will let people know it is China-made,” she says.
Terry also believes that a physical store will allow customers to give their opinions and present their case better for refunds or exchange of goods.
To keep pace with the times, Ki Hing has gone digital in terms of pricing its goods, and there is a website and social media page introducing the shop and its products.
The company may launch an online store as well in the near future.
Looking back, Terry attributes the success of Ki Hing to the dedication of its long-serving employees. Each staffer is responsible for keeping track of certain items in the shop.
It wouldn’t have been possible to manage Ki Hing so well without the staff commitment, he says.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 31.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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