Chinese business owners in Yiwu, the major suppliers of the world's Christmas decorations in eastern Zhejiang province, didn't spend their Christmas Eve at ease, although they have weathered through the gloom of recession this year.
"Low price has helped us pull through at the moment, but innovation could sustain us in the future," said Chen Jinlin, general secretary with the Yiwu Christmas Goods Industry Association, which comprises 150 heads of local Christmas businesses.
Zhejiang, represented by Yiwu, and Guangdong provinces have led the world in the production and sales of Christmas commodities, which together take up about 80 percent of the global market.
By November 2009, the export value of Yiwu's Christmas-related products that was characterized by low price, remained the same as last year, Chen said.
However, as the high-end demands shrank in the grim global market, about 55 percent of the Taiwan investors were forced out of business in Guangdong province this year, he said.
During the first 11 months, Guangdong, with a significant segment of its Christmas business targeting high-end demands, has exported Christmas commodities worth $780 million, a drop of 10.7 percent year-on-year, said an official with the Huangpu Customs.
"But the trend is for high value-added products," Chen said, seeing the recover of the world economy as "just a matter of time".
We should prepare ourselves in advance, he said, as the Chinese saying goes, "One who does not think of what is far off will be worried by troubles close at hand."
In recent years, Chen's fellows have been increasingly discontent with their role as "bottom feeders". They aspired to sweeping changes in their product design, processing technique and cost control system to expand profit margins.
And one crucial step is to find talents who could help turn their thoughts into reality.
A rising career
When invited for a meal by his boss on the Christmas Eve, Zhu Yongling clearly felt the burdens on his shoulders.
Zhu, a veteran technician, was one of the recently promoted workers in Yiwu' s Haipeng Craftwork Company, a prominent producer of Christmas accessories such as bells and candles.
He has been in charge of all the production lines, and supervised the work of more than 100 employees.
During the past 10 years, the 36-year-old local saw his salary climbing to 3,000 yuan from 1,000 yuan a decade ago.
"Only with profound know-how, can I stand out," he said.
Zhu worked from February to December every year, and spent the remaining time absorbing new knowledge from books or the Internet.
Several days ago, Huang Yijun, general manager of Haipeng, took Zhu to Shanghai for a three-day training course, which cost each of them 8,800 yuan.
"I'm counting on him to come up with new ideas that could either upgrade products or improve management," Huang said.
Zhu has developed an affection toward his job. "I am happy, since my work could bring warmth and joy to many western households," he said.
An artificial flower featuring Christmas elements with an export price of 60 to 70 yuan has been popular in Guangdong, but rarely seen in Yiwu, said Zhuang Weiwen, a businessman who migrated to Yiwu to escape the gloom in Guangdong.
Several months ago, Chen and his fellows turned to their major competitors. They visited a large number of shopping centers, hotels and bars in Guangdong, and reaped great inspiration.
"After back home, we did not rush to copycat their products, but get down to improving our materials and techniques," Chen said. Meanwhile, they were looking for professionals to offer fresh designs.
Chen also planned to lead his fellows to the Frankfurt Christmas Market and Craft Fair in the near future, in a bid to "broaden horizons".
Yiwu's vision has been shared by its counterparts in Shandong and Liaoning provinces.
"We are developing more durable Christmas commodities for daily use, in accordance with the westerners' ever-shrinking Christmas budget," said Zhou Ying, deputy general manager of the Huahong Toys Co, Ltd in Binzhou city of Shangdong.
In 2009, Huahong for the first time invited its foreign agents to lead the designing work in China.
"The win-win cooperation could help both sides get through the hardest times," Zhou said.