How Taiwanese Design Has Set Creativity Free

Secretary General of Good Design Association, Taiwan
林同利Lin, Tong-Li
ACERA in Taipei 101
Eminent Luggage Corporation
ACERA cooperated with Swarovski

Recently, a consensus among most companies regarding design has been adopted that states, in a competitive marketplace, “good design” is one of the main factors in success. With global production capacity on the rise, and stability in competitive pricing structures and quality, good design leads to strategic advantages. This will continue now and into the future, and is a key factor in determining the success of a product. For many years, observing how various elements of product design have contributed to continued development and growth has resulted in the following values being identified as value-added elements, which include: 1. Added creative value; 2. Added experience value; 3. Added story-based value; 4. Added aesthetic value; and 5. Added technological value. It goes without saying that the purpose of adding value to a product’s design is to allow continued growth and development. Every factor of design and application of value-added element can also be applied in multiplicity to other value-added elements to co-create new values.

Taiwan has many stories of business development that are worthy of study by younger students. These companies have experienced many changes and setbacks in the marketplace, and have applied many of today’s current methods and ideologies to transform their company to continue developing. When an industry continuously implements a beginning-to-end strategy, in simple terms this can be seen as the “design, manufacturing, branding, and marketing” strategy which I have always promoted. The important thing is that a diligent effort is made at every stage, with innovation continuously being introduced. The book Hidden Champions of the Twenty-First Century by Hermann Simon identifies some small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which have worked hard quietly in the background. Although some Taiwanese SMEs could not be called “Hidden Champions,” they are nevertheless some of the top players in their respected industries. Some examples include: ACERA, the Eminent Luggage Corporation, Cheerful Fashion Goods, Artilize Worldwide Co. Ltd., ATOP, Maestrowe, Franz Collection Inc., Bone Collection, ZUNY, Miyahara, and Majanoodles.


Let us first look at ACERA, whose chairman Yu, Chun-Ming is a close friend of mine. The company was founded in 1986 and was named Art Ceramic because of the close connotation with the business it operates. During its early years, the company focused on its “Tangcai” range of ceramic products, which was a breakthrough compared to traditional Tang Tricolor, combining the company’s unique colored ceramic glazing with western spray painting techniques. The ceramics are then baked many times over at high temperatures to create the exquisite ceramic artistic style which is found in the East today. Ten years ago, the Taiwanese industry was facing manufacturing difficulties, with OEM and ODM orders falling. It was at this time that Chairman Yu had obtained the patent rights for domestic ceramic technology, and despite the difficulties of the time, he remained resolute. He raised TW 50 million to construct a factory in Zaozhuang—a city in Mainland China’s Shandong Province—and became the first wholly foreign-owned enterprise in the area. Taking inspiration from the creative works of the Han and Tang Dynasties and combining this with modern design principles, Chairman Yu developed his “LIVEN” branded range of products which allows consumers to lead a high quality and healthy lifestyle. A broad assessment of ACERA shows that they have integrated each of the value-added elements into the design of their products. Examples of this include: 1. Added creative value – by continuously pushing for innovation in their product types and their development of pottery and porcelain; 2. Added experience value – making sure that the design of each product undergoes extensive testing in both everyday life and the marketplace; 3. Added story-based value – including cultural stories from each dynasty as well as everyday traditions and celebrations; 4. Added aesthetic value – always striving for perfection in the design of its products, exhibitions, boutique stores, and brand image; and 5. Added technological value – using patents for its domestic ceramic technology to create the “Huoci” range of products which is beneficial for people and gives each product a unique identity.

In addition to an understanding of design, the company also has significant production-related know-how. This includes the sourcing, quality control, costs, and storage of materials; the processing, techniques, models, and yield rate of manufacturing; as well as the personal qualities, management, education and training its personnel require. It is often said that creating a brand requires a lot of knowledge. I often ask listeners to my speeches, “Is your brand really a brand?” With so many brands on the market today, how many consumers actually recognize your brand? After all, creating a trademark is easy; the hard part is getting that trademark to become a well-known brand, or to become an international brand. Experts believe that for a brand to become truly international it must be recognized by 20% of the world’s population. If this is the case, is your product’s trademark really a brand? How much brand value can be added by using this brand name for sales and marketing? If it can help you to achieve a slightly higher price for your products, how much more can you actually receive? It is because of this that marketing is also extremely important. When thinking about marketing, your product pricing strategy and product positioning both must be extremely accurate. Three years after setting up his factory, Chairman Yu started going full steam ahead marketing his products. He avoided the first-tier cities in Mainland China due to the existing supply of premium international products already available within these markets, and instead started by focusing on consumers in the second and third-tier cities. Despite basing his marketing strategy on health, premium products, and free gifts offerings, it proved unsuccessful. Chairman Yu therefore quickly changed his strategy. He first called on some of his friends and offered them some of his ceramic products for free. After these friends had experienced the benefits of these products, they then started placing orders when they needed gifts for other people. Due to the diligent spirit of the Taiwanese chairman, operations in Mainland China had begun. The business now has ACERA premium outlets in all of the major retail areas in Mainland China, and has gradually become a premium brand in the Chinese market. All of this shows how even small players can achieve big successes.

the Marketing way of Eminent Luggage Corporation in Germany
the Advertising of Eminent Luggage Corporation-about Life Style
the Advertising of Eminent Luggage Corporation-about Astronaut
the Advertising of Eminent Luggage Corporation-about Automotive
the Advertising of Eminent Luggage Corporation-about Soldiers

A further example which is close to my heart is the story of Chairman Hsieh, Ming-Chen’s Eminent Luggage Corporation. Eminent retail outlets can now be found in Taiwan, the USA, and in other locations around the world. They are especially prevalent in Germany, Japan, Mainland China, the Hong Kong International Airport, Taiwan’s High Speed Rail Stations, and B&Q. Chairman Hsieh says that his philosophy is very simple: right from the formation of the Eminent Luggage Corporation in 1979, he has wanted to control the design and global sales channels for his products. He does not simply want to design and manufacture products for others. Of course, businesses face great risks when they want to establish their brand. Twenty to thirty years ago, when faced with the stiff competition from Europe and America, if the company did not have enough capital or adequate R&D capabilities, their products would have been wiped out and they would have disappeared from the market. In fact, a British competitor once offered Chairman Hsieh TWD 10 million per year to not establish his own brand. If you were in his shoes, would you have accepted the offer? In the USA, collaboration between the company and another party not only proved unsuccessful, it also led to the filing of a lawsuit. Although this case was subsequently won, when the hefty lawyers’ bill arrived, Chairman Hsieh felt that carrying on was just not worth it. In the end, the only option available to him was to come to an agreement with the lawyers to pay their outstanding fees in installments over three years. Chairman Hsieh has encountered many roadblocks while on the road to setting up his business. However, his steadfast determination to not be defeated, along with his faith that kept him carrying on is another example of the Taiwanese spirit of diligence.

In 2004, Taiwan was enveloped by dark economic conditions due to the outbreak of SARS and the aftermath of the Iraq War the previous year. With most industries suffering a drop in sales, the Eminent Luggage Corporation decided to buck the trend and go public at such a turbulent time. When Chairman Hsieh brought a team from the design R&D, sales, and finance departments of his company to the Taipei Exchange for a meeting with the investigative committee, he proclaimed with great confidence, “When SARS strikes, the global population will need to be even more mobile. The prospects for the luggage market are therefore going to be even brighter!” Coupled with figures showing how the company’s sales had consistently grown over the previous years, the committee ultimately voted unanimously to allow the company to be floated on the exchange. Over the last decade, many large European and American luggage manufacturers have successively gone into liquidation. In-depth research into the reasons behind this shows that these manufacturers either could not find good quality ODM factories with good technology to collaborate with; or they used B and C-grade subcontractors which produced results that were less than adequate. Early on in its history, the Eminent Luggage Corporation tried to conquer the U.S. market, however, due to issues with textile quotas, the company switched its focus to the Japanese market instead. Japan as a single country now accounts for 30% of the company’s global sales, with Germany also accounting for a similar amount. All of this demonstrates the company’s impressive international performance. The company’s sales headquarters for the Eminent brand in Germany is located in Cologne, with the city containing six of the company’s stores. The company also has close to 60 retail counters in local, well-known department stores throughout Germany. One interesting point worth mentioning is how Chairman Hsieh and his family usually spend time with their customers celebrating holidays together to become more closely acquainted. This is also a key part of the corporate culture at Eminent: building a business on the back of customer relations. For marketing purposes, the Eminent Luggage Corporation places a life-sized model of an astronaut in each of its European stores to increase brand recognition. Whereas in the USA the company is taking a more cautious approach to selling its products, in Asia it is a different story. The company has setup retail counters on the Airport Express line at Hong Kong International Airport, as well as in major cities across Southeast Asia. As for sales, Eminent adopts a strategy of market and sales channel diversification.

Eminent has a team containing the best designers and developers. When working on design R&D, the team works on how to use the design value-added element to make great leaps forward. The company has also never abandoned the ODM market as part of its operational strategy, with notable European and American manufacturers such as Ferrari, Hugo Boss, Samsonite, and Delsey all being ODM customers. ODM now accounts for 60% of this mid-sized company’s turnover and plays a role in supporting its stable growth. In addition, the company has also signed a letter of intent with Tainan City Government to build a large tourist factory near the city’s High Speed Rail station. With a total investment exceeding TWD 1.2 billion, the new factory will bring some production lines back to Taiwan from their current base in Dongguan City, Mainland China. The Eminent Luggage Corporation hopes to build the world’s most efficient and customized working environment, setting an example of what Taiwanese companies are capable of. The idea is that by creating a Green environment for its factory; along with a driving range, bicycle paths, and garden area, company employees will always have a positive outlook which will greatly increase productivity and keep the industry in Taiwan.