After years of business partnership during which the intricacies of negotiations and trust building have at times been faith-challenging, a Swiss importer of caulking guns made by Kai Shyun Enterprise Co., Ltd. finally had his long-held skepticism of the quality of MIT (Made In Taiwan) products reversed recently. The details of such turnaround may be the stuff of corporate boardroom lore, but many Taiwan businesspeople reportedly believe that meeting personally to start business deals or to seal agreements far outweigh other forms of contact. Such belief apparently is arguably more practical business skills than self-fulfilling-prophecy: The Swiss importer, whose company name is Soradon, recently met C.C. Huang, Kai Shyun’s CEO, during a regular meeting last year and his quality-related skepticism somehow vanished. The rest is as they say history.
“The Swiss importer began buying our products in 1999 despite having told me last year that he questioned the quality of Taiwan-made products when he later decided to import from us,” Huang recalls. “Today, the Swiss importer has become one of our major dealers in Europe and it has even convinced many of its European peers to buy caulking guns from us,” he adds.
Impressed by the company’s quality that has passed German TUV/GS verifications, one of Kai Shyun’s European dealers several years ago convinced Mercedes Benz to adopt its caulking guns, according to Hung. To meet the specialized needs of the world-leading luxury carmakers, the toolmaker began adopting engineering plastic to build its guns, a material noted for properties such as low creep, elasticity, hardness, finish, lightweight and durability.
A Sound Start
Huang, who founded his business in 1981, says that good quality and design form the corporate backbone that effectively convince buyers to place orders. “Quality and design are crucial credentials for manufacturers like us specializing in tools for professional users because they typically work in heavy-duty conditions. For example, pumping low-viscosity compound places considerable pressure on cylinder walls of caulking guns and caulking cartridges,” he stresses.
The CEO explains that compared with the 70-80 kilogram force delivered by do-it-yourself (DIY) tools, a pro-caliber tool has to withstand at least 200 kilograms. “Our tools are made with specifications ranging from 250 to 400 kilograms. Thus, all the major components of our guns are made sturdy enough to withstand heavy-duty work,” he says.
To show that its is not hype, Huang takes out a Kai Shyun gun which has been used by an interior-decoration tradesman for over two years and returned for restoration. He pulls out the central rod to show the dark, luminous surface. “Even after two years of use, the surface of the rod remains very smooth. This gun was built to take the force exerted from pushing heavy loads. But the design of the gun is actually quite a dilemma: on the one hand you want the cylinder wall to be smooth for easy pushing of the rod, on the other the push-plate has to meet tightly against the cylinder wall for total discharge. But too sharp or imprecisely-round push-plate perimeter can damage the cylinder wall. The precision machining is know-how,” Huang says proudly.
The company’s guns are ideal tools for various pros, including construction workers, car mechanics, dentists, interior-decoration tradesmen, journeymen, and all sorts of mechanics who maintain home appliances, and even food workers. Kai Shyun displays over 200 types of caulking guns in its showroom. “We are the most professional supplier of caulking guns in Taiwan for our most complete range of pro-caliber guns,” Huang reports.
Huang notes that labor-saving is a highly-desirable criteria for professional tools, especially construction workers who usually pump quick-drying caulking as waterproofing, sound insulation, expansion joints and finishing around wall surfacing, window frames, doors, bathtubs, sinks, etc. “Although quick-drying is a merit of caulking but the drawback is that the inherent thickness of the compound makes it very difficult to discharge, calling for a very strong arm. But demand being the mother of invention: we were inspired by the fact that quick-drying caulk is a blend of two or three compounds pre-loaded individually, which moved us to develop tools that adopt single, double and triple cartridges,” he notes.
The company has introduced tools that can generate various degrees of pushing force ranging from 10-some to 40 kilograms with one kilogram given to pull trigger. Among the labor-saving tools is its KS-H103-313 family, which comes with TPR grip and trigger and in two force specifications-18 kilogram pushing force with one kilogram gripping force and 29 kilogram pushing force with one kilogram gripping force.
In most cases, using lever mechanisms is behind the company’s labor-saving design. To keep the mechanism working properly after long use, the company has added some edge design to the mechanism. Its KS-H107-519 tool is a typical one to illustrate the special design. With a central rod that is tension adjustable, this gun can regain full pushing force by tuning the rod’s position in relation to push plate.
To make tools durable and easy to use, the company applies quality materials and processing methodology to its products, using high-carbon steel to make the rods and the plates as well as inert gas tungsten arc welding on the joints of container holder. Aluminum or engineering plastic are used for grip handles and trigger bar. Ergonomic pads made of thermal plastic is usually attached to the back of the handle to make gripping less tiresome even after long hours of non-stop use. For caulking cartridges, thicker gauge ferrous sheet than that for DIY types is adopted.
Since a high-end caulking gun is usually made up of a number of molded parts, precision is accordingly of priority concern as precision tools call for close-tolerance between the parts. “Central rod and push plate for example…Our tolerance for these parts is limited to within 30μ. The two are the most crucial components and we make both parts in-house,” Huang stresses.
A graduate of industrial design, Huang particularly emphasizes product research and development, which he proves by spending 10% of gross profit on R&D each year.
He has fitted out his company with various computer-aided design programs including AUTOCAD. “A good design is not only born of 3D software, but also rich experience. Over the past 20 years or so we’ve gleaned considerable experience from trying to meet buyers’ customized demands. Each order is a brain-racking challenge as buyers usually expect off-the-shelf performance: they show caulking samples and then clinically ask you to develop tools that are both easy to use and even stylish, a feature usually not associated with caulking guns. And the toughest challenge may be, on top of having to achieve these two goals, to keep costs low,” he says.
Diligent R&D efforts have seen payoff-Kai Shyun has won some 20 patents from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, mainland China and Taiwan. One of the patented products is a pneumatic gun for car mechanics featuring an air-release valve so the cylinder does not burst due to excessive pressure. Another one is a gun, not designed for professionals, patented for its fastener-free design that is assembled via only mortise and tenon joints.
The company’s tools are very marketable not only for its labor-saving design but also for being green: being marketed with PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) that are toxin free.
Like many other pro-caliber toolmakers, Kai Shyun has adhered to making diversified products in small volumes and quick time-to-market R&D. “Taiwanese manufacturers do not compete well in making standard products for such items usually compete on price and volume; especially when the mainland Chinese makers already dominate this sector. But we excel in R&D efficiency and can deliver prototypes in 10 days,” Huang says, adding that the company’s lead time is between 35 to 40 days depending on complexity of design.
Underselling competition posed by mainland Chinese manufacturers drove Huang’s company out of the DIY-tool arena in 1999, forcing them to move upmarket. “We spent around three years to adapt to the higher-threshold competition in spite of 10 years of experience in the DIY market. Most of the challenges were having to meet the stricter industrial standards,” Huang recalls.
As soon as the company changed position, it shifted market emphasis to Europe from the United States, the world’s biggest market for DIY tools. Today, Europe Union accounts for 95% of its exports, so it has to attach user manuals in six to seven European languages to products; while only a tiny portion of such tools are marketed under the company’s “KSC” brand. “Branding is definitely a rocky road for small manufacturers like us, but still an essential path for the sake of sustainable development. Fortunately, small suppliers are beginning to accept our brand,” Huang notes.
The company has insisted on rooting production in Taiwan. To pare down production costs, it has contracted dedicated manufacturers to produce all parts but central rods and push-plates for its tools. “To ensure their parts can seamlessly fit ours, we assessed their production quality for some time before placing them with contracts. Now, every workpiece is thoroughly checked on our assembly lines,” Huang notes.
For Kai Shyun, 2007 was a harvest for its sales rose 26% from a year earlier. “We thank the brilliant growth to rollouts of new products and successful access to new markets. Also and without being a devil’s advocate, rising defective rate from mainland Chinese makers are driving buyers to turn to Taiwanese toolmakers. I’m bearish about business in 2008 for we have many new items to introduce,” Huang says. One such product is an electrical-powered gun under development that will become the company’s major revenue earner.