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The current situation, challenges, and future development path of China's stationery exports

Sep,11,2023 << Return list

In the process of making stationery, we first learn slowly, accept and develop, and then create our brand made in China, so that the stationery brand can go global, "said Mr. Chen, a merchant at Yiwu International Trade City.

Stationery refers to cultural tools, including office stationery and learning stationery. Stationery can be divided into pens, ink, paper stationery, teaching supplies, etc. according to product form; According to functional purposes, it can be divided into office stationery, writing tools, student stationery, and other stationery and educational supplies.

A Stationery Store in Yiwu Trading City Source: Member of the Far Traveler Group

The development history of China's stationery industry is long. In the early stages of China's development, there were fewer domestic manufacturers and more products relied on imports.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the beginning of reform and opening up, some European and American stationery companies shifted their manufacturing processes to China, thereby driving the rapid development of the domestic stationery industry.

I started doing border trade in stationery in 1996, "said Mr. Chen, a stationery merchant at Yiwu Trading City. When he first started working in 1996, he mainly exported goods to countries such as Southeast Asia, and gradually expanded his customer base to Middle Eastern countries and regions such as Afghanistan. As he continued to develop clients bit by bit in the future, he gradually gained authorization from some European and American companies - in 2003, he had already obtained authorization from Disney.

Afterwards, the stationery industry continued to develop steadily with the support of national policies and driven by multiple factors such as consumption upgrading, forming a stationery industry cluster.

According to data from the Census Center of the National Bureau of Statistics, Chinese cultural goods manufacturing enterprises and brands are mainly concentrated in Zhejiang, Guangdong, Jiangsu, and other places. For example, stationery manufacturers for document processing (including folders, reference books, etc.) are mainly concentrated in Chaoyang, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and other places in Guangdong; Stationery manufacturers such as pens, teaching aids, long tail clips, staplers, and glue are concentrated in Ningbo, Wenzhou, Yiwu, and other places in Zhejiang. [1] Among the 47 merchants visited, 28 mainly sell fluorescent pens or watercolor pens with factories in Wenzhou, and 16 mainly sell neutral pens or notebooks with factories in Yiwu.

The Current Situation of China's Stationery Foreign Trade

Nowadays, the export of Chinese stationery products covers various countries and regions on all continents.

According to Chinese customs data, China's stationery exports reached 35.08 billion yuan in 2020, mainly in European countries such as Russia, Spain, Hungary, and South American countries such as Paraguay and Brazil.

As the "capital of small commodities in the world," Yiwu is an important distribution center for stationery exports.

I never imagined that in Yiwu, I could export my products to many countries around the world. I have been here for about 25 years and have dealt with at least 50-80 countries in the world, "said a stationery shop owner in response to the development of Yiwu's stationery foreign trade.

According to data statistics, currently in the Yiwu market, the annual scale of stationery factories reaches 11 billion, of which 7 billion are for foreign trade and export orders, and 4 billion are for domestic trade and brand OEM

Walking between the shops in the third district of Yiwu Commercial City, you can see products printed in various languages: Chinese, English, Spanish, Arabic, etc. Among the 47 stationery merchants visited, a total of over 80 countries or regions were exported.

The stationery products exported by China have many advantages, presenting characteristics such as diversity, safety, and personalization.

In terms of diversity, Chinese merchants are constantly launching products suitable for different scenarios.

Nowadays, we have developed many things, such as water pens and fabric pens, which have become very refined, "said Mr. Chen, a stationery merchant at Yiwu Trading City.

He said that there are many more types of pens now than before. For example, a fabric marker is used to draw on clothes, a water-based marker is used to draw on stones using acrylic paint, a flashing marker has a flashing effect, and a metallic marker is metallic.

At the same time, more and more consumers are paying attention to the safety of stationery.

In the early stages of stationery development, practicality and functionality were the focus of many stationery merchants and consumers, such as whether ink can be smoothly printed, whether smooth handwriting can be written, and whether it is comfortable to use.

As international requirements become increasingly strict, more Chinese stationery merchants are also paying attention to the safety of stationery.

There are many safety standards for measuring stationery internationally. For example, the US Hazardous Art Materials Labeling Regulations (ASTM D-4236 LHAMA), the UK Pencil and Drawing Tools 1998 S.I. 2406- Toxic Elements in Writing Tools, Chemical Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), Toxic Risk Assessment (TRA), Microbial Limit Testing (USP 61, BP/EP 16B), Cadmium Content Testing (EU REACH Annex XVII item 23), Lead Content Testing (EU REACH Annex XVII item 63, CCPSA SOR/2018-83) Efficacy testing of preservatives (USP 51, BP/EP 16C), etc.

In China, the "General Safety Requirements for Student Supplies" was officially implemented in 2008, which proposed standard requirements for stationery safety and the basis for stationery testing standards.

In the past, when we picked up this pen and thought about its functions, we could just write it. So for foreigners, we had to consider safety, such as opening the lid and accidentally eating it by a child. What would happen? "Said Mr. Chen, a stationery merchant at Yiwu Trading City.

He said that in early years, people believed that sealed lids could effectively protect the pen head and reduce ink evaporation and loss. However, for foreign stationery merchants, this type of perforated lid can better prevent children from choking their trachea after ingestion. Gradually, we have learned from foreigners to improve the safety of stationery, "said Mr. Chen.

In terms of personalization, in addition to meeting basic practicality, more consumers are paying attention to the packaging and culture of stationery itself.

According to a survey conducted by a German business research institute on the promotional market, 59% of stationery distributors hope to highlight product personalization more. This shows that pursuing personalization has become a trend in stationery consumption today.

Mr. Chen said, "Packaging is also a way to increase profits. You can see that packaging is becoming increasingly vibrant and diverse

Product packaging is a very important part of the entire marketing process. Packaging design was originally designed to protect products, but now it plays a very important role in brand recognition. Stationery packaging is a silent salesperson in the stationery market, serving as the first aspect of student stationery display and a key factor affecting consumer purchases.

He mentioned that the packaging of stationery is becoming increasingly "bulky" and "bright", making it easy for consumers to see at a glance.

In addition, China's exported stationery is also meeting the different needs of consumers in different countries and regions for stationery.

It is understood that customers from Middle Eastern countries often prefer gold. 44.29% of stationery products sold to Türkiye in China are gold plated. For Spain, the commercial promotion method of exchanging small gifts with corporate logos is becoming increasingly popular, and small stationery with custom logos and low prices is more popular.

Stationery sold to different countries may vary in language, and some patterns and functions may also be adjusted. For example, in some feature bars, notebooks sent to Middle Eastern countries have removed the small calendar and changed it to a horizontal line.

A stationery store owner also provided an example of actual sales. Many years ago, when selling stationery domestically, many merchants would print photos of Huanzhu Gege on the packaging of pens to meet market demand. But when exported to Middle Eastern countries, due to religious factors, the pattern of the Huanzhu grid was replaced with other patterns.

Challenges and Prospects of China's Stationery Foreign Trade

Although China has many advantages in exporting stationery, it also faces many challenges.

Since the opening of the third district of the International Trade City in 2005, there have been over 2000 stalls selling stationery related products. The manufacturing technology of stationery is relatively low, and the products produced are also similar. The competition environment between businesses is also very fierce.

Image source: Hong Bing

The market of small commodity cities has to some extent the basic elements of a free competitive market. It refers to a large number of production and sales enterprises in an industry that provide similar and standardized products to the market in the same way. Merchants cannot control the prices of goods or services. In this competitive environment, as merchants have no influence over prices and can only silently become price recipients, any increase or decrease in prices by merchants will lead to a sudden decrease in demand for this product or unnecessary loss of profits.

Therefore, product prices can only be determined by supply and demand. For the stationery market, it is very difficult to compete fairly with thousands of companies at the same time to gain a certain market share. Due to the presence of a large number of producers and consumers, the presence of individual merchants is extremely low compared to the sales and purchase volume of the entire market.

In addition to fierce competition, weak awareness of intellectual property rights and low technological content are the main challenges.

Group members (filmed in a pet product factory in Yiwu)

Firstly, some merchants have weak awareness of intellectual property rights, which leads to lower uniqueness among products and increasingly serious plagiarism.

A stationery owner at Yiwu Trading City said, "Of course, in the process of selling stationery, it is common for us to copy one company from another due to the low manufacturing threshold

Stationery patents are mainly divided into two types, namely appearance patents and practical patents. Brand trademarks and patterns belong to appearance patents. The functionality of the product belongs to practical patents. The production of similar products without authorization from the patent holder can be considered plagiarism.

Due to the countless merchants present in the market, such behavior is inevitable. A stationery store owner pointed out the current situation of the market and believed that the improvement of the legal system was a crucial step in building a unified national market. If Western countries indiscriminately plagiarize others' goods without authorization from merchants, the cost of committing actions that violate credit and morality is quite serious. Not only will it be excluded by other merchants in the market, but it will also bear legal responsibility for this. In current China, if the same event occurs, the cost would be very low.

When facing the international market, the lack of this concept will bring a significant blow to some of China's exported stationery. According to reports from Judong Logistics, Beicang Customs has discovered a suspected infringement of 229000 products marked with words and patterns such as Disney and Snow White.

Image source: Popular Newspaper Industry

Secondly, some stationery products have low technological content and are limited in the market.

It may be difficult for us to imagine what technology is hidden in a notebook or pen. Indeed, for a long time, some stationery manufacturers in China lacked awareness of the importance of technology.

Does this piece of paper appear to have nothing on its surface? If I use this ink to draw it now, there will be a Mickey Mouse pattern on the paper, which is called technology. "A merchant said while showcasing the product. The ink in the paper reacts chemically with the pattern in the paper, making the pattern explicit.

The technology mentioned by the merchant has been used in many children's DIY stationery sets. The blessing of technology has made this pen more interesting and has also opened up a wider market.

Technology will improve quality and price, but for ordinary low value products, as competition deepens, the profit margins of each supply chain of these products are being compressed.

However, more and more stationery companies are also aware of this and are constantly improving.

If you want to customize a pattern, you need an authorization letter. "During our visit to stationery merchants in the commercial city, we found that they are increasingly paying attention to patents.

Many stationery companies are constantly seeking their unique advantages internationally.

Morning light is one of them. In the past twenty years, Chenguang has developed into one of the largest stationery companies in China. At the beginning of the company's establishment, founder Chen Huxiong insisted on creating his own brand. He knows that if it's just processing, his factory can only become a substitute factory at best. After the product had good sales in the local market, Chenguang began actively exploring overseas markets.

In 2019, Chenguang Stationery Laboratory was recognized by CNAS and its testing capabilities were in line with international standards. In the same year, the 2nd CIIE Chenguang Stationery signed a contract with the Italian children's painting brand CARIOCA. This enterprise has transformed from being ostracized by foreign countries due to safety issues into a measure of safety, from a processing factory to a unique brand, and is on par with well-known foreign manufacturers in international stationery trade. The experience is worth learning from.

Another example is Deli Limited, established in 1981. As defined by Deli CEO Chen Xueqiang, "Deli hopes to showcase itself to the public as a cultural, creative, and technological enterprise." Over the past thirty years, Deli has undergone multiple transformations and ultimately developed into an industry standard setter. Their stationery brands are exported to various parts of the world, and these brands are all from effective research departments. They invest a lot of time and funds to support the research and implementation of new materials and processes, and even have the only company in the industry with an intelligent research institute. [8] It is precisely through their continuous transformation and sustained research and development that they can achieve today's success.

However, not all shops will become a force or dawn. People and products that cannot keep up with the times will be eliminated, and there is no way. This is the market. "Faced with future development, a stationery merchant from a commercial city said. Transformation is indeed accompanied by pain. In the post pandemic era of international trade, only by moving from low-end production to high-end innovation can the Chinese stationery industry break through.