The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Racquet race in gifts game Beijing boost for sales pitch
- China sweeps freebie bazaar with sports goods at giveaway rates

From lighters and table-lamps to badminton racquets and tennis balls — the Chinese invasion is set to don a sporty look this season.

Cheap goods from the Land of the Dragon are changing product-promotion plans of India Inc, with small somethings giving way to a range of goodies. And now, gift items targeted at children will take the form of fun ’n’ games — a ‘62-cm racquet’ with 500g of a popular health drink.

The next two weeks will find a leading multinational in the health-drink segment hitting the market with badminton racquets as ‘buy one, get one practically free’, thanks to the fact that these will be priced “three to four times lower” than the average ones available in sports shops today. Next in the sporting line are tennis balls, booked by a tea company, and sports sunglasses, ordered by another health drink major.

“Serious sports goods, not simple toys, are popular as kids have become more demanding. We are importing tennis balls, sports sunglasses, and even dart pins from China at prices that are cheaper than their Indian counterparts by at least a factor of three,” reveals Pritimoy Chakraborty, managing director, Zenith Finesse. The city-based company specialises in procuring gift items from China and its list of clients here include Cadbury, Hindustan Lever, ITC, Eveready, Godrej, Colgate Palmolive, Usha and Hero Cycles.

“We have procured two million racquets from the Shanghai-based sports goods major Elan and the first shipment has already reached us,” adds Chakraborty.

But with the Chinese price list going through the floor, a question mark looms large over quality. “You quote them a price for a product and the Chinese can deliver it. I won’t be surprised if they can deliver a pair of badminton racquets for Rs 50. But I am not sure about the quality of these products,” observes Adeep Kapoor of G.K. Sports, on Kyd Street.

Chakraborty, however, rises to the quality call, claiming that these Chinese racquets will be “as good as any racquet” found in Calcutta stores, marked at around Rs 150. “The Chinese manufacturers don’t venture into products they lack expertise in,” he argues.

And so, cricket bats will not find their way from Beijing to Burrabazar in a hurry.

“I had received inquiries from a leading multinational for mini cricket bats, which they wanted to distribute them in the run-up to, and during, the World Cup in South Africa. It was a huge consignment, but the suppliers in China put their foot down as they didn’t play the game and I lost the order. It went to some manufacturers in Ludhiana,” says Chakraborty. And when it came to footballs, too, the Chinese lost out to Pakistani makes.

The past year and a half have seen India Inc. bundling its products with Chinese gifts, ranging from portable fans, rechargeable torches, cameras and personal stereos. According to Chakraborty, the most significant shift that the Chinese gift items have brought in is a broadening of the product range — from low-priced cameras and personal stereos to hair-dryers and VCD players.

“I have even got inquiries for Chinese sanitary napkins and diapers from a leading cosmetics company that wants to use these as free gift items to push its sales,” says Chakraborty.

The price advantage of Chinese goods is no longer an excuse for compromising on quality, with companies at times even visiting the manufacturers’ plant in China to be assured of the product. The quality impetus has resulted in gifts being treated more than just freebies and customers are increasingly willing to share the cost.

“Companies are at times asking for a price for the gift items and bundling them with the products. But there are still takers,” concludes Chakroborty.

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