In China, brand is key for world’s largest piano maker

Guangzhou, October 22:

Pearl River Piano spent 50 years learning how to produce instruments good enough to compete with an awe-inspiring array of better-known foreign brands. Now comes the hard part.

The world’s largest piano factory in southern China wants to convince demanding consumers in Europe and North America that it, too, can produce a quality musical instrument and become a globally recognised name.

“Foreign markets are full of products that are made in China. But products that carry a genuinely Chinese brand are very rare,” says Rong Weiping, one of the company’s board members. Situated among cement makers and car manufacturers in the vast industrial landscape arou-nd the city of Guangzhou, Pearl River Piano is one of the local champions.

Xiao Zhenyu, the city’s top foreign trade official, puts it first on a list of Guangzhou companies with global potential and says he dreams of the day when he might see the brand light up New York’s Times Square. But in line with the laissez-faire philosophy that has made this part of China rich, he argues that Pearl River Piano and other companies are themselves responsible for catapulting their brands into the international spotlight. “The enterprises must improve the quality of their products in order to meet the requirements of the global consuming public,” he says.

That is a tall order, not least in a market dominated by companies such as Vienna-based Boesendorfer, which started making pianos when memories of Mozart and Beethoven were still fresh. The tough conditions have forced Pe-arl River Piano to play cat-ch-up ever since its establishment in 1956, and to some extent, despite an annual capacity of 120,000 pianos, it is still lagging behind. But the quest for qu-ality is slowly paying off, according to Dan Zhaoyi, a professor at the Shenzhen Arts School in Shenzhen just north of Hong Kong.

“The quality of the Pearl River pianos depend on the price, but the best of them can definitely hold their own in foreign markets,” said Dan, a pianist with over 40 years of professional experience.

In March last year, the company signed an agreement with US-based Steinway and Sons, the maker of some of the world’s finest pianos, to produce a line designed by the American firm.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Rong. “We want to learn from their skills, and Steinway wants to enter the Chinese market.”