The Chinese Middle Class Approaches Half a Billion

And how American companies can seize the opportunities…

The Chinese middle class is expanding rapidly, reaching 474 million this year, according to my latest calculation.

Many people may challenge this number. But it’s just arithmetic. In a recent report “Consuming China,” McKinsey indicates that 83 % of households in China’s mega cities (cities with population of over 10 million: Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin) and 66 % in the rest of the cities are middle class families.

By the end of 2011, China’s urban population reached 691 million. Do the simple math, and you will get the same number I got: the population of the Chinese middle class was 474 million, with 88 million living in mega cities, and 386 million in smaller cities.

This means the Chinese middle class accounts for 68 percent of urban population, which is believable to me. Assuming two percent are super rich, still about 30 percent of the people in urban areas are poor.

Some would argue that there are different criteria to measure the size of the Chinese middle class. A simple and important rule of thumb, as stated in my book The Chinese Dream, is that of a household with a third of its income for discretionary spending. These people have passed the threshold of survival and have disposable income to spend on leisure items. As I travel around China, it’s very clear to me that the majority of people in urban areas have reached this stage.

Chinese Consumers Love “Made in USA” Products

The rising Chinese middle class is the biggest story of our time. However, many US companies are missing the opportunity. US exports to China account for only 6 percent of China’s total imports. The major categories of US exports to are in industrial sectors such as power generation equipment, aircraft, and medical equipment.

The biggest opportunity, however, is in the consumer sector. On November 11, China’s “Single Day” shopping festival, online retailers Tmall (B2C) and Taobao Marketplace (C2C) generated a record revenue of $3.1 billion, more than the total sales in the U. S. on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Before long, China will become the world’s largest consumer market, and its consumption could reach $13 to $16 trillion by 2020.

Better yet, Chinese consumers love American goods and are willing to pay more for them. Continue reading

What Went Wrong with the House of Barbie

Last March, American toy maker Mattel closed its first flagship Barbie store – the House of Barbie – in Shanghai after two years struggling since opening in 2009. Mattel invested over $30 million in the House of Barbie in celebration of the American iconic doll’s 50thanniversary.

The concept was that Barbie is not just a fashion forward doll, she would also be a lifestyle symbol and cultural icon for girls and young women. The six-story building had the world’s largest collection of Barbie dolls and affiliated products such as children’s bedroom furniture and young women’s clothes. It also features a fashion runway, a design studio, a stunning spiral staircase decorated with 800 Barbie dolls, and a café on the top floor.

Many analysts pointed to the fact that Barbie is a Western doll and is “too sexy” for Chinese girls. The reality is, however, that Chinese girls actually like the blond Barbie better than the localized Chinese Barbie called “Ling.” Before the House of Barbie was launched, Barbie dolls had been sold in China and were relatively well received by Chinese girls. When I first bought a Barbie doll for my niece about ten years ago, I was surprised to find out that she already had a couple of them.

So, what are the real reasons that the House of Barbie failed to live up to its expectation? Recently, I spoke to the general manager of Barbie Shanghai, Gar Crispell, about what went wrong with the House of Barbie and what lessons can be drawn from that experience. Continue reading

Chinese Consumers Spend Twice as Much

Luxury retailer Shanghai Tang CEO Raphael le Masne de Chermont told the Wall Street Journal that its Chinese customers spend an average of 500-600 euro per year, which is about twice as much as their counterparts in New York and London.

Chermont also said that Chinese consumers are getting more sophisticated, meaning they are now less about big brand names to show off their status, but more about consuming the luxury.

However, Chinese consumers still want to be re-assured that Shanghai Tang is not just a Chinese brand, but a brand with stores in Paris and New York.

As Chermont pointed out, even though Chinese economy may slow down a little in the coming years, there are still a lot of potentials for growths.

“Must Succeed Customer”: Pizza Hut’s Rebranding in China

Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), the U.S. fast food restaurant chains under Yum! Brands, have enjoyed phenomenal success in China. In the past five years, Yum! China has on average opened more than one new restaurant a day. Now, it has over 3,700 KFCs and more than 760 Pizza Huts across China.

According to analysts, Yum! China’s business, driven by a rapidly growing middle class, will be twice as large as its U.S. business within five years. Already, China accounts for more than 40 percent of Yum! Brands’ global revenue.  As Yum! Brands CEO David Novak said, China is the best restaurant growth opportunity of the 21st century.

How did the Kentucky-based restaurant conglomerate succeed in a country that has thousands of years of its own culinary history? One word that summarizes Yum! China’s success is: rebranding.

Rebranding

When they first entered China in the late 1980s, Yum! China management made a conscious decision that it did not want to be seen as a foreign presence in China, but as part of the fabric of the local community. As Sam Su, CEO of Yum! Brands China Division, pointed out, they wanted to take the best ideas from the U.S. fast-food model and adapt them to serve the needs of Chinese consumers.

They re-branded fast food in China as “delicious and safe, high quality and fast, nutritious and balanced, healthy living, and rooted in China.”

For example, Pizza Hut’s Chinese name, “Bi Sheng Ke,” means “Must Succeed Customer” in Chinese. It gives no hint that the restaurant is about pizza. The name resonates well with Chinese, as it implies success and good fortune.

Pizza Hut is positioned totally differently in China than in the U.S. Continue reading

The Helen Wang Group Launches “The Secret of Succeeding in China” Program

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. Sept. 10, 2012 – The Helen Wang Group has launched a new program, “The Secret of Succeeding in China,” to help U.S. companies crack the China market. This one-day program, held at Hotel Sofitel, Redwood City, California on November 9th, 2012, combines strategic case studies with hands-on workshops to tackle one of the hardest questions facing U.S. companies: how to succeed in the world’s most populous country.

China’s growing middle class has opened opportunities for companies not just to manufacture there but also to sell into its vast market. “The Secret of Succeeding in China” takes a deep look at why some companies succeeded in China while others failed, and how companies can re-brand and re-position their products and services for the Chinese market. The program also offers a trademarked Success Formula and workbook to guide attendees developing plans to succeed in China.

“This is a very unique program,” said Steve Mushero, founder and CEO of ChinaNetCloud, an Internet server management and cloud computing company based in Shanghai, China. “While there are many conferences and seminars about China, there is no such program that gives people a concrete take-away that they can apply to their businesses.”

Registration has just opened. Seating is extremely limited. Click here to register early. Continue reading

Five Things Starbucks Did to Get China Right

If there is one company that should have failed in China, it would be Starbucks. China has thousands of years of history drinking tea and a strong culture associated with it. No one could have guessed that Chinese would ever drink coffee instead of tea.

Yet, Starbucks has successfully opened more than 570 stores in 48 cities since it first entered China twelve years ago. Building on this momentum, it plans to open 1,500 stores by 2015. What did the Seattle-based coffee company do right in China? Here are five lessons from Starbucks’ success.

Think Different

When Starbucks entered China in 1999, many were skeptical that Starbucks had a chance. Given the fact that Chinese people have traditionally favored tea, it seemed impossible that Starbucks would be able to break into this market.

However, Starbucks did not let this skepticism stop it. A careful market study revealed that as the Chinese middle class emerged, there existed an opportunity for Starbucks to introduce a Western coffee experience, where people could meet with their friends while drinking their favorite beverages.

Starbucks literally created that demand. Now you can find a Starbucks almost on every major street of the coastal cities in China. Even my 90-year old father in China began to tell me how he drank coffee after meals, rather than tea, to help his digestion. Starbucks has revolutionized how Chinese view and drink coffee.

Position Smart

Once Starbucks decided to enter China, it implemented a smart market entry strategy. It did not use any advertising and promotions that could be perceived by the Chinese as a threat to their tea-drinking culture. Instead, it focused on selecting high-visibility and high-traffic locations to project its brand image.

The next thing Starbucks did was to capitalize on the tea-drinking culture of Chinese consumers by introducing beverages using popular local ingredients such as green tea. This strategy has effectively turned potential obstacles into Starbucks’ favor. Chinese consumers quickly developed a taste for Starbucks’ coffee, which was essential to Starbucks’ success in China. Continue reading

The Secret of Succeeding in China

For those who have participated in our survey on The Secret of Succeeding in China seminar, thank you very much and we really appreciate your feedback!

We have received a total of 108 responses. A overwhelming majority of them says that a China strategy is extremely important to them. About 40 percent of the survey responders say the biggest challenge for them to enter the China market is “government regulations,” and 35 percent says “no connections.” Almost 80 percent people indicate that they are likely to attend our seminar.

Currently, this survey is closed. Since we have a basic account at SurveyMonkey, we are only allowed to collect the first 100 responses. If you haven’t received our free report yet, that means you are among the last 8 people who responded our survey. You can go to our Free Downloads page to download your free report.

Thank you again for your interest. Please stay tuned for our upcoming seminar The Secret of Succeeding in China.

China’s Consumption Dynamic to Surpass Any Consumer Market in the World

In this three minute vedio, Stephen Roach, a professor at Yale University and former nonexecutive chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, summarized one of the key points of my book The Chinese Dream:

China is well on its way to "create a consumption dynamic that will outstrip the growth of any consumer market in the world,” how the U. S. should embrace the opportunity, and why improving the China–US bilateral relationship is so critical for the economic future of both countries.

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Profile of Chinese Luxury Shoppers

Anyone who has visited Chengdu, a second-tier city in western China, cannot miss the ostentatious signs of Louis Vuitton and Cartier in its downtown. According to Chengdu Retail Industry Association, Chengdu is home to 80 percent of international luxury brands and ranked third behind Beijing and Shanghai in luxury sales.

A cover story in Chengdu Today, “Global Luxury Brands Stride Forward in Chengdu,” reveals that Chengdu municipal government has set a goal to bring “twenty famous international brands to Chengdu every year” and “by 2015, primacy ratio of international first-tier brands will reach 80 % or above in western China.” Hurray and hurry, luxury goods companies!

In 2010, Chengdu’s retails sales reached $5.8 billion. Much of it went to luxury brands such as Hermes, Burberry and Prada. Louis Vuitton alone registered record sales of $138 million. Cartier generated more revenue in Chengdu than in any other city in China. Continue reading