Matches may have been a daily necessity in the last century, but a match factory in central China's Henan Province has recaptured attention by selling its innovative new products internationally.
Fangzhou Matches Factory in the city of Anyang, saw its matches exported to more than 20 countries and regions including Germany, France, Poland, and Italy, earning more than 700,000 U.S. dollars last year.
However, the factory went through a difficult period as the whole match industry was in decline in the 1990s, said Zhao Changxin, founder and general manager of the factory.
The match industry boomed in China in the 1980s.
"At that time, matches produced in Anyang sold well in both domestic and international markets," said Sun Zengsheng, a plant manager of state-owned Anyang Match Factory, noting that many retailers chose to be based in the neighboring areas in order to snap up matches produced in the city.
However, shocked by a flood of disposable lighters on the market, the industry began to wane after 1990, and Zhao was laid off from Anyang Match Factory in 1998.
"What I thought about most at that time was how to help match factory survive," Zhao said. Two years later, he set up his own business.
In 2003, an idea of making innovative gift matches occurred to him when he picked up a matchbook during a visit to Shanghai. The matchbook had the Chinese characters known as "double xi," which signifies good luck and is often used at weddings.
Soon afterward, customized matchbooks with various themes like weddings, birthdays, tourism and advertisements started to roll off the production line.
Recently, a new kind of product also attracted new customers. If you strike a 28-cm-long scented matchstick on the surface of a matchbook, a rose scent wafts in the air.
"We have added Indian spices into the match heads," he said, noting that the matches had already been ordered by a luxury firm from the United Kingdom.
New products offer ways to counter the waning trend in the match industry. Now sales are even climbing at Fangzhou Matches Factory and its scale is also expanding.
In 2016, the factory's combined value of orders from international customers stood at 650,000 U.S. dollars, surging from 20,000 U.S. dollars from 2010 when it received its first foreign order.
"Success in the new matches market depends on innovation, and businesses will attain better development once they advance with market demands," said Huang Guanghua, secretary general of Anyang Association of Entrepreneurs.