Treasure garden grows
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, May 3, 2012
Treasure garden Started in may 1984 TO serve U.S. specialty casual furniture retailers. Its overseas manufacturing facilities and related shade divisions now spread out to cover global needs for shade products.
"Our mission is to develop different types of products to suit different needs and lifestyles in the world," founder and President/CEO Oliver Ma said. "Each market has a different season, which helps us to make better use of our manpower. Keeping production evened out helps to keep costs down so we stay competitive."
Ma travels constantly to other countries to better understand the shade needs and product preferences around the world. "Each market has its unique culture and environment that influences the demands, styles and scale of products," he said. "I have to travel to all major trade shows to meet with customers and potential prospects, collect trending market information and design concepts and also to check out our competitors' activities. As a group leader, I need to be on top of the wave of global markets and to be sensitive to all changes with long-term vision."
In addition, Ma travels worldwide to monitor machinery that may increase automation, efficiency and reduce costs.
At its international headquarters and 130,000-squaremeter Activa factory in Ningbo, China, each workday starts with 15 minutes of exercise at 7:30 a.m. as more than 2,500 workers awaken their minds and bodies. Guards stationed between areas of the complex's eight buildings salute visitors to provide a sense of security and demonstrate discipline on the huge campus.
Workers who glance at one wall inside the aluminum extrusion plant are constantly reminded of core company concepts: Quality, efficiency, dedication and discipline. All are part of the philosophy installed by Ma, who says working "smarter not only harder" in tough times is often the key to survival - not just for manufacturers, but for retailers as well.
Before China implemented its open-door policy during the 1970s, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea were the main countries that supplied U.S. consumers' needs. When those markets were maturing and wages were escalating, the next wave naturally moved to newly developing countries like China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Ma's family had been among the first exporters of shade umbrellas and umbrella frames from Taiwan. Ma drew on their experience with textiles, umbrellas and followed family tradition when he founded Treasure Garden in 1984. He built the first building in a light industrial park in Baldwin Park, Calif.
There were already two strong competitors serving the U.S. specialty retail umbrella business at that time. California Umbrella dominated West Coast sales while Finkle Bros. Umbrella supplied most of the East Coast. Treasure Garden was the new kid on the block.
Ma's goal was to serve specialty store retailers with very good quality and service at a fair and reasonable price. Treasure Garden's high quality focus and fast turnaround built a loyal following. On one occasion, a Southern California dealer needed a yellow umbrella for a customer. Ma instructed his staff to manufacture the umbrella and drove to deliver it to the dealer within one hour.
Ma's personal attention to detail combined with his strong work ethic as he built a strong foundation for the future. Many of his original employees remain with the company today.
In 1996, Margaret Chang and Jeff B. Dorough joined the company. With Ma's direction, new products were quickly added. In 1997, Treasure Garden introduced an exclusive Auto Tilt function in many frame finishes coordinated with Sunbrella fabrics that drew acclaim from dealers. Those and other innovations moved umbrellas from a commodity item to a fashion accessory and set Treasure Garden apart from its competitors.
At the time Ma decided to build his manufacturing base in Ningbo, the Chinese government favored exports and provided incentives to encourage export of home furnishing products. Those incentives along with tax rebates and favorable bank loans supported foreign business investors. Ma also considered other advantages China offered, such as less corruption among government officials than in other parts of the world, along with a huge source of skillful labor from within its 1.4 billion population. From that ample supply, his company was able to select hard-working people who are quick learners and knowledgeable as it developed a top-notch quality of labor.
Infrastructure development with telecommunication, bridges and a high-speed railroad - which support inland transportation and exports from all kinds of industries, were other key factors.
Ma started manufacturing shade products in Shenzhen in 1990. Because of problems with subcontractors who were supplying parts, Ma built the Activa Leisure division in 2000 in Ningbo, producing all components in-house to ensure standards of quality and delivery of high-end umbrellas for the specialty market.
Ma had a big plan in mind when he decided to set up his factory in Ningbo. Although the investment was huge, the blueprint was based on a vertical set-up plant. "Quality and timely delivery are the main goals I want to achieve," Ma said. "I want to have total control of my factory - from raw material to finished product."
"Now Activa produces nearly all of its components and parts in-house; most of our competitors are doing assembly," Ma said.
Over the past 28 years, Ma brought in other high-end shade companies and business partners to further expand the product lines. In 2009, Ma joined forces with New Zealand-based Shademaker to enter the contract hospitality channel. Shademaker, founded in 1998 by avid yachtsman Russell Bond to fulfill his need for shade, developed into a premier line of hospitality shade products for resorts, restaurants and country clubs worldwide. Most of Shademaker's styles are specifically designed for the architectural, design and contract niche while two styles, Sirius and Corona, are suitable for high-end residential uses.
Air-conditioned workers dorms are visible across from a footbridge, fountain and recreation area, bordered by stone steps, ancient tiles and traditional statues as a reminder of old time heritage at the headquarters in Ningbo.
From left, Dragon Hsu of China’s Outdoor Lifestyle Association; Hu Pi Yang, vice director of Ningbo Custom; Treasure Garden CEO Oliver Ma; Liao Yuhan, exhibition department project manager, China Chamber of Commerce for Import/ Export of Light Industrial Products & Arts-Craft, and Treasure Garden COO Margaret Chang.
EFFICIENCY MEETS VOLUME
Because of ongoing labor, efficiency and environmental concerns, Activa opened a more automated manufacturing facility in 2008 in Qingdao, which is an approximate 1½-hour flight from Ningbo. New workers for the Qingdao plant trained in Ningbo and 75 experienced workers relocated from the Ningbo plant to continue that training when production began. The construction started in May 2008 and was completed four months later; production began immediately and the first orders were shipped out from Qingdao in October of that year.
Robotic machines are part of the automatic and semiautomatic equipment used in both Ningbo and Qingdao factories. In another example of automated efficiency, while 24 people can sand-cast about 200 base molds in a day, two people can machine-cast 500 similar parts in a day. Metal waste is also recycled and melted again to assure quality.
"We invent our own machines to ensure the standard of quality products," Ma said. "Production flow is automatic from the first cut to finished products. Every piece goes through our strict inspection procedure to ensure quality. We even use a screening machine we created to protect customers from any broken needles."
Because Ma wants to produce top quality products in every category served, his company makes every effort to treat its employees well. That includes three meals a day prepared by an in-house staff at Activa to ensure quality and safety along with outdoor recreational areas and high-rise, air-conditioned dorms.
|Treasure Garden’s cantilevered Bradbury AKZ1300 umbrella provides an example
of the company’s innovative functions and high-end shade solutions.|
|Shademaker offers a complete line, available in square and octagon canopy
shapes. This Sirius pool style suits both contract and residential uses.|
|Pockets catch umbrella tops as sewers stitch, following the company standard to
never allow fabric to touch the fl oor.|
|Workers enjoy three meals a day prepared by an in-house staff to ensure food
quality and safety.|
Since 2003, the Activa factory has hosted its own version of the Olympics each August. Departments work together to plan the event and also compete in a sports competition designed to build team spirit among the workers who attend. Donations are collected in the event, which doubles as a fundraiser to assist 500 low income children with their education.
"A lot of them come back to work for Activa (after graduation) because they want to reciprocate," said Chang, chief operating officer.
Workers form teams to help plan activities for the one-day event, which includes a dinner, entertainment and fireworks. Workers also are involved in planning activities for annual Moon Festival and Chinese New Year events. "The activities are part of our Activa culture and team building," Chang said.
Despite the worldwide economic downturn, the company continued to develop innovative, fashion-forward shade products in each of its divisions. Treasure Garden supported U.S. specialty dealers during the downturn by producing more custom product, keeping a larger amount of inventory stocked in its California facility, buying a new building next door to support its Shademaker and Spettmann USA brands and adding staff. Treasure Garden also added product videos, Team TG and a new TG Design Studio to its website to further assist dealers in today's competitive market. Professional sales teams, excellent customer service and marketing staff s combine efforts with design and manufacturing staff s in Ma's ongoing quest for quality shade solutions.
"All countries have different requirements that spread out our production time and make better use of our labor force," Ma said. "Serving a diversity of markets is vitally important. We started small and have grown to be the world's largest shade manufacturer. It takes a lot to make that happen."