Landy Lau recalls how tough starting her business was when she and her husband founded their electronics trading company 17 years ago. At that time, she lived for days on end in a Mainland factory overseeing quality control for their first and only customer's order. "That was a very tough project which lasted for almost three years," she says of her early days in the business. Today, AL Goodwell Industries employs 2,000 people and has a production network spread through six factories in the Mainland annually churning out hundreds of millions of speaker and acoustic parts of every conceivable shape, size and function. Its products are widely used by the audio-visual, computer, telecommunications, securities and toy industries, for their products which are sold around the world. Landy and her husband, Allen, first met in an electronics trading company, which was also an agent for Samsung, Toshiba and NEC, in Central in 1982. They soon married and a few years later decided that they not only wanted to be together in love, but also in business. Their chance came when a friend said he knew of a company that was looking for a supplier of timers for kids' basketball games. "We were young and thought we could do anything," she recalled. "So we quit our jobs and set up AL Goodwell -- A stands for Allen and L stands for Landy, as well as acoustic and leader." Her first customer was the America Basketball Association, which ordered 500,000 children's basketball timers. The couple sourced components for the order from three suppliers in Hong Kong, and shipped them to a factory in Shenzhen that said it could assemble the parts for them. "The order was huge, but the quality control was a big headache," she recalls shaking her head. "The customer was rejecting so many of the goods that they were threatening to cancel the order. So finally, the only thing we could do was to stay in the factory 24 hours a day to do the quality control ourselves." Despite a slim profit and hardships endured, the project turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only did the couple learn everything there was to know about timer components and quality control, it also established valuable contacts for new customers. Before long, buyers in the U.S. who saw the basketball timers started making enquiries for other products. From 1987 to 1991, the business survived trading mainly in acoustic components ranging from speakers and musical greeting card chips to professional speaker systems. To strengthen quality control with factories, the couple decided to enter into joint partnerships with factory owners. This achieved mixed results. Quality improved, but before long, some factory owners started poaching their customers. "Our position as a partner was to do the marketing and sales side, while our partners were in charge of the technical aspects and production. Trust, of course, is very important in any business, so when something like this happens, you just have to give up and go your separate ways," she says. By 1991, the business had won a steady stream of orders from buyers looking for speakers, buzzers and other acoustic products. Seeing an opportunity to specialise in acoustic components and finished items, Allen and Landy switched 100 percent of their business into acoustics and related components. "We wanted to become more specialised and experts in this field, because there was a lot of demand for the kinds of acoustic products that we carried. At the time, we had a few hundred items and I could remember all the details and prices of every product we carried," she beamed. "Now we have over 2,000 items I can't keep track of everything. I must be getting old !" New items are added almost monthly to the company's catalogue as her research and development department rolls out its latest designs. Research and development has played a crucial role in the company's success, and Landy insists that her team of engineers attend overseas seminars and exhibitions whenever they can to learn about the latest technology, know-how and market trends. In 2000, she and her husband opened their wholly-owned factory in Shenzhen to give them total control of the business, which was awarded ISO9001 accreditation the following year. It also allowed them to design, produce and market their own consumer electronics under the brand name, Aplux. Breaking into this competitive field has so far proven to be far more difficult than Ms Lau could have imagined. At trade shows, her company now rents two booths -- one to exhibit components and the other to showcase the new line of consumer goods, ranging from speakers systems to DVD players. "With components, buyers still place a lot of emphasis on quality while price is second. But with consumer products, all they care about is the price. Cheaper, cheaper, cheaper, that is all they ever say. Never a word about quality," she laments. Though, she has always a target to offer the best bargain price with all other terms including quality being the same and vice versa. Despite this, attending international trade shows gives her the chance to travel -- one of her greatest pleasures. Last year, she participated in seven overseas electronics exhibitions, and is planning to join even more this year. "I try to travel every month, to visit customers or attend an exhibition to show our latest products," she says. Unlike most trade show exhibitors, she doesn't judge the value of an exhibition by the number of orders she secures to cover her costs. Instead, she views participating in trade shows as a long-term investment. Visits also allow her company to participate in the product development process with her clients, and the chance for her and her engineers to exchange professional opinions and find solutions to design challenges. She feels that simply attending trade shows to get orders from new clients is not the best way to do business for the long term. Fostering friendships and trust through interacting with clients and helping them find solutions to their problems produces a much more secure and lasting relationship in both friendship and business. "Even if I get no orders, there is always the possibility of someone contacting me in the future to do business," she says. "I never underestimate the importance of meeting people and building up contacts, after all, that is how our business started, with a simple introduction to someone who wanted to buy basketball timers."
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