Lighters are small, but their market isn’t.
Most of the world’s disposable lighters are manufactured in China. Last year, Shaodong in central China’s Hunan province shipped 3.52 billion lighters overseas, which were about half of China’s total exports of the portable device during the same period.
The retail price of Shaodong’s disposable lighters has been set at 1 yuan ($0.15) for two decades despite the increasingly fiercer international competition and a steep rise in labor and material cost. The secret lies in the industry’s innovation.
Sci-tech innovation not only improves production efficiency, but also lowers cost for lighter manufacturers.
It takes not much money to buy a lighter, but it takes technologies to make one. A lighter, which comes with over 30 spare parts such as a flame height adjuster and a gas valve, involves multiple techniques such as flame control and ignition intensity.
In 2009, an electric company focusing on lighter development, injection molding, testing and sales was established in Shaodong by six local lighter exporters and five other enterprises in the industry. Nine years later, Shaodong was approved to build a national-level demonstration base for foreign trade transformation and upgrade, and over 10 leading players in the industry have gone through automatic reform.
In the past, workers had to work in three shifts a day, but now all the 12 procedures can be completed automatically, which reduces the labor cost per lighter to 0.015 yuan from 0.1 yuan. The excellent cost management of the low-margin industry mirrors the profit-making capability and the development potential of the Chinese manufacturing industry.
The innovative design made by lighter manufacturers in Shaodong further consolidated their advantages in the global market.
They wrap lighters with bright-colored cases to attract consumers who prefer colorful lighters. They also make basic ones to cater to those who like simple lighters. Besides, they even launched lighters with flashlight to win favor of young consumers who like multifunctional ones.
Having a good nose for consumers’ demands, lighter manufacturers in Shaodong are at the forefront of innovation. The small commodity is a miniature of China’s innovation capability and has found a huge market for the Chinese manufacturing industry.
The lighter industry of Shaodong is by no means the only successful case of China’s manufacturing.
Hangji is a township with only 30,000 permanent residents in Yangzhou, east China’s Jiangsu province. However, it produces 7.5 billion toothbrushes on an annual basis, which account for 60 percent of the market in China and 40 percent in the world. Manufacturers in the township have made toothbrushes degradable and more environment-friendly, and now the toothbrushes made there are seen not only in high-end hotels, but also on Chinese polar icebreaker Xue Long.
Yongjia county in east China’s Zhejiang province boasts annual production of 50 billion buttons, and the luminous buttons manufactured in the county have been leading the trend over the recent years.
Investing more on R&D to extend the value chain of small commodities, Chinese manufacturers have gained a better reputation and brought more products overseas.
These innovative toothbrushes, buttons and lighters are as great as other Chinese products such as high-speed trains, tunnel boring machines and supercomputers.
These Chinese industries might be small in size, but they are leading the world in their respective areas. They are working to develop key technologies, secure industrial chains, and promote high-quality development. They make an important part of the foundation of the Chinese manufacturing sector.
Their experience in transiting to high-quality development has well proved that as long as enterprises pursue innovation, they can gain a firm foothold in fierce market competition.
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