A few days ago as I came into work at our Shenzhen office, I was greeted by the pleasant smell of cut grass and the hum of a distant lawn mower in the yard behind our office.
For a moment I thought I was back home and my mom was going to appear with a tray of lemonade while Dad lights up the BBQ.
Unfortunately, lunch was noodles and the drinks were green tea that day. Enough of my cut-grass-smell-induced day dreaming…what makes this day special is that it is the first time in my office complex that the grass was cut with a gas powered lawn mower. Notice the child coming over to check out this mechanical wonder.
A very brief history of lawn mowing in China in the modern era
For the past years cutting was done with a weed whacker and for the decade before the weed whacker it was done by hand with hedge clippers.
Yes, I kid you not; a team of workers would get down on their hands and knees and cut the grass with giant scissors.
While it took over a decade to move from scissors to weed whacker, it only took a year or two to upgrade to push lawnmower. I suspect that in a few months I may even see a riding lawn mower purchased by the property management.
This illustrates just how fast the labor rates are rising in the major coastal cities.
I am lucky in that business takes me all over China and while I travel I keep an eye on how the grass is cut in different parts of the country. The result is an informal index of the cost of labor across China.
Here is how my “grass cutting index” breakdowns as of June 2011
Hong Kong: What grass? Unless you are at the polo grounds, you will have a hard time finding open space let alone space with grass in this modern city.
Shanghai/Shenzhen/Guangzhou/Beijing: Gas powered push mowers are the norm with the occasional ridding lawn mower in parks and big office complexes.
Dongguan (industrial base outside of Shenzhen): Weed whackers dominate.
Hunan (semi-developed inland province): The human powered push mowers where the spinning of the blade is based on the speed you push it.
Rest of China (under-developed West): Clipping shears or just letting the grass grow wild.
Guilin/Yangshou: Those backpackers and hippies are smoking the grass if you get my drift.
This “lawnmower index” backs up some of the points made in my recent articles Reports of China’s death as a sourcing destination are highly exaggerated and “exports up in April” that while China’s coastal areas are indeed becoming more developed and more expensive, the low costs in the vast interior will keep China the premier sourcing destination for years to come. Keep in mind that for every gas powered lawn mower sold in China, I wager that there are probably a thousand weed whackers used and for every weed whacker there are probably ten thousand people still cutting grass with clippers.
Wishing you successful China Sourcing!
Author, “The Essential Reference Guide to China Sourcing” (chinasourcinginfo.org/book/)