Is the long reign of Japanese and Korean premium skin-care brands finally coming to an end? The success of the likes of Shiseido, Kanebo and the Amore Pacific brands in China is well known, based on the eagerness of Chinese women to hand over much of their disposable income for decent face lotion. However, several department stores have told me that in the last few months, it has been brands like Lancôme, Kiehls and L’Occitane that have been capturing the female consumer’s eye and wallet. Of course upping the whitener content in those foreign brands has helped, along with better advertising, but I expect the Japanese and Korean brands to fight back soon.
Ports 1961, arguably China’s most successful high-end brand, just got a boost. No lesser a personage than Michelle Obama was spotted in the White House in a Ports dress, and advertising like that you cannot buy! The good news should help Ports’ ongoing push into other markets as well; a new store is set to open in the heart of the fashion beast, Rue Saint Honoré in Paris. The question is, can they get the younger woman interested? Getting daughters to shop at the same store as mum is a problem, even for the American First Lady, I suspect. Still, prices may now rise at Ports – the so-called “Michelle mark-up” – Mrs O wears it and it’s instantly worth more. Now all Ports needs is for a certain newly created Duchess of Cambridge to buy a frock and they’ll get the new “Middleton mark-up” too.
I had a long and involved conversation in Denmark recently about why Lego isn’t more popular in China. It’s a good question. Sure, Lego ain’t cheap, but since when did price deter brand-obsessed middle-class Chinese parents from flashing the cash? The problem, I think, is that the Chinese haven’t yet been fully alerted to the educational properties of an afternoon’s Lego-ing. Today’s Lego kids are tomorrow’s high-paid architects and civil engineers. You can’t put a price on that! Interesting to see then that Lego is undertaking a big push – ads that say “Inspire the Builders of Tomorrow.” What they need now are Lego Clubs where kids can gather and play with Lego under supervision – this gets round the fact that Chinese dads, who grew up Lego-less, aren’t much help. Similar clubs in Taiwan are packed on weekends.
More evidence that the success of many coffee chains in China rests on furniture. Close to my Shanghai office, a Dunkin’ Donuts opened on the ground floor of a large office block. It never had more than half a dozen customers even at lunchtime, and they were usually tourists making sure they had their map the right way up. So they shut. Now it’s reopened as a Pacific Coffee, the popular Hong Kong chain, and it’s busy from dawn till dusk. The coffee’s the same, the food’s the same, the prices are approximate – what Pacific brought were big comfy armchairs and sumptuous sofas to replace Dunkin’ Donuts rather hard utilitarian plastic chairs. The punters love the armchairs and business is good.
My new word of the month is “Zoomtowns,” those places that just seem to appear overnight in China with populations of several million, tower blocks and expressways. It’s tempting to say “Zoomtowns to Boomtowns” but one wonders how many of these “instant cities” around China will still be viable places in 20, 30 or even 50 years? When tech changes and industry moves on things can get hard – think Detroit, think Sunderland …from “Zoomtowns to Doomtowns” could be their future.