Friends & U’Land (友聯磁磚潔具): Leading Distributor of Sanitary Ware
York Lo: Friends & U’Land (友聯磁磚潔具): Leading Distributor of Sanitary Ware
Left: Ad of Friends & U’Land in the 1950s (HKBCA Yearbook); right: an old ad of Friends Company listing all the products it carried (U’land website)
Earlier on the website, we covered three leading pioneers in the HK plumbing industry. Another important player in the industry was Friends & U’Land, which was a leading wholesaler and retailer of sanitary wares, tiles, mosaics, heaters and all kinds of building materials (but unlike the three discussed in the other article, it was not an engineering and contracting firm and was primarily a trading firm). The successor firm, U’Land Sanitary Ware Ltd remains a leading distributor of sanitary ware in Hong Kong.
Left: portraits of Henry Stephen and his wife Hilda Yik from the 1967 HK Album; right: the old Friends & U’land store in Wanchai
According to his biographical entry in 1967’s HK Album, Friends & U’Land founder Henry Stephen (雪達雲, 1906-1986) was born in Hong Kong. His name and appearance suggest that he might be of Eurasian descent and he was educated in English & Chinese middle school in HK. In 1934, he founded Friends Company on the Hong Kong island side which operated out of in Wanchai (first at 201 Hennessy Road, later moved several blocks down to 269-273 Hennessy Road in the 1960s and then 233 Lockhart Road from the 1970s onwards). Business was good early on as HK experienced a construction boom starting in the late 1930s with the massive influx of refugees from the mainland as the Sino-Japanese War broke out. After the War, the business was extended to the Kowloon side with the establishment of U’Land Company at Tung Choi Street in Mongkok and collectively the business became known as Friends & U’Land. Winland Trading Corporation (永聯洋行) was also incorporated in 1964 to engage in import/export of other products such as garments, lace, stationary etc. and Friends & U’Land Co Ltd was incorporated in 1968. As a leading player in the business, Henry was a committee member of the HK Plumbing and Sanitary Ware Trade Employers Association.
Born in Canton and grew up in HK, Henry’s wife Hilda C.K. Yik (易竹君, 1913-1975) as president of Friends & U’Land was very involved with the business and together she and her husband often traveled across the globe for business.
Left: Henry Stephen speaking at the Rotary Club of HK West in 1971, to his right is Chan Wai-leung, president of the club (WKYP, 1971-3-30); Right: inside the Friends & U’Land showroom (U’Land website)
Outside of work, Henry Stephen was very active in community affairs having served as a director of Po Leung Kuk (1958), Chung Sing Benevolent Society, Wongneichong Kaifong Welfare Association (跑鵝區街坊福利會) and Wanchai Kaifong Welfare Associaton (灣仔街坊福利會); vice president of the Rotary Club of Kowloon West (he was most active with the Rotary movements and allegedly hold one of the world’s record on meeting attendance) and honorary president of the HK Amateur Fishing Society. In 1965, he was elected chairman of the Hoi Tin Athletic Association. His wife Hilda was a member of the Public Affairs and General Affairs committee at the YWCA and involved with the women’s section of the various groups her husband was involved in.
Henry Stephen and directors of Po Leung Kuk in 1958. Left to right: rice merchant Yeung Wing-yau, Law Tin-kwai of Tsang Fook Piano, Wong Siu-ching, Kwan Yu-pang of Yu Ying Can Printing, contractor Ha Kit-wing, D.Y. Pong of Shiu Wing and Sik Yuen Rubber, Ma Kam-ming of Tai Sang Bank, Lee Wai-ling, shipping tycoon Frank Tsao, lawyer Lam Man-kit, Henry Stephen (WKYP, 1958-4-9)
In 1970, the firm became an authorized dealer of American Standard sanitary ware which quickly became one of the most popular brands in HK. Henry Stephen and his wife relocated to Canada in the 1970s, where Hilda died first in 1975 followed by Henry in 1986 and are buried together in Montreal. They were survived by a son – David Stephen (雪澤榮1943-2013), who received his PhD from the University of Massachusetts and taught physics at Vanier College and four daughters – Irene Li (雪愛蓮), Helen Steinke (雪喜蓮), Mary Cressey (雪美蓮) and Christine (雪若蓮). (WKYP, 1975-5-3)
As a firm, Friends & U’Land was dissolved in 1998 while Winland Trading was dissolved in 2004. U’Land Sanitary Ware Ltd (友聯潔具, incorporated in 1997), a 51% owned subsidiary of the listed Acme-Landis (to be covered) continued the business and in 2004, opened the largest American Standard retail store in HK at 233 Lockhart Road in HK.
This article was first posted on 1st March 2019.
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