You will soon be convinced that this is a city full of ideas if you take a walk along centralShanghai’s small streets. Shops selling independently designed clothes, antique furniture or quirky toys are lining up and ready to surprise.
People here are actively turning their inspiration into business. But, you may ask, in a city withthe most expensive land price in China, can they make money?
Ke Ruiping, owner of a ceramics shop, spent almost four years and got her answer.
“I used to feel confused and baffled at the beginning when I opened this shop. But now I believethis is what I can do for a life,” she said.
Born in Jingdezhen, a “porcelain capital” in East China’s Jiangxi province, renowned forproducing top quality porcelain for almost 2,000 years, Ke said she has had a deep connectionwith fine china objects since she was little.
“I was always crazy about them. When I was a small girl, I spent almost all my summer andwinter vacations in the workshops, watching the craftsmen making bottles or bowls,” said Ke.She was not talented in making porcelain herself but it did not stop her admiring the art of earthand fire.
Ke studied accounting and law during college. After graduation, she became a ceramicslecturer for a private museum, then an agent for porcelain artists.
In 2008 she started her own company and became an independent porcelain agent.
“I always keep in touch with the aunties and uncles I know in porcelain workshops back inJingdezhen. Many of them became famous in this field after years. It works easily for me to betheir agent,” she said.
Ke decided to open a store in 2010, which she called Yacixuan, or “Elegant Porcelain”.
However, things did not go as she expected.
“I was targeting the high-end customers - which means a porcelain painting would cost youmore than 100,000 yuan ($15,699). And I designed my shop as a place for negotiations overbig deals,” Ke said.
However, there was a shortage of “high-end” customers willing to visit and part with theirmoney.
Ke’s shop is located in central Shanghai’s Jiang’an Villa, which is now a shikumen complex ofcafes and small shops, surrounded by shopping malls and office buildings, a haven for whitecollar workers to relax after work and at weekends.
“Many young ladies walked in and at once said: ‘Wow, it must be too expensive for us’, and left.I did not make many deals in the first several months,” said Ke.
But the rent is high. She was facing a severe cash-flow problem by the year-end and was eventhinking about closing up the store, when, out of the blue, she received an order to makeporcelain gifts in late 2010.
“The shop was saved, luckily, but temporarily. I started to thinking about changing its marketpositioning,” Ke said. She struggled and made a decision to change the style of the shop, totarget the middle-income group, who are frequent visitors to her shop, but could not affordhigh-end works.
“I said to myself I need to start being down-to-earth. What’s more, making art more close to thegrassroots is not a bad idea at all,” she said.
Ke’s connection with Jingdezhen and experience in this field once again proved to be helpful.She found three aspiring artists in Jingdezhen she liked and signed them up as her exclusiveporcelain designers. She also set up her own workshop and kiln in Jingdezhen.
Now in her shop almost all of the products are designed by her and the artists, made inJingdezhen with top quality local porcelain clay and marked with their own logo “Yaci”. They arepriced from below 100 yuan to 500 yuan.
“I try to make the price acceptable for those young people who love art and who want to havefine tableware or decorations in their home. At the same time I want to provide a feeling ofindividuality through our independent design,” she said.
These fine bowls, cups and vases are very popular among young people and work perfect asartistic daily necessities or gifts for friends.
The transition is so successful that Ke’s younger sister also quit her job and joined her. Theytogether opened a second shop near the Bund recently.
“I feel the right location is more important than anything, actually. I am still adjusting mystrategy,” said Ke. She has tried many things: high-end work, online promotion, even selling teain the shop, but nothing works better than focusing on medium-priced, self-designed porcelainpieces.
She has an ambition to build a strong brand for her porcelain. Yes, china is famous, but thereis no world famous brand. I hope “Yaci” will become one in the future, she said.
Compared with Ke, the transition for Chen Yanping seems more challenging.
After managing her own company in the IT industry for 10 years, she created a design brandcalled “Pusu”, referring to plain unpolished jade, with her partner Chen Yanfei, who was artdirector for Elle Decoration and has been studying the furniture of the Song (960-1279), Ming(1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties for more than 10 years.
“Western style furniture and dcor has dominated the Chinese market for years, ever since weadopted the modern concept of interior dcor. But more people are interested in the traditionalChinese style nowadays,” Chen Yanping said.
In their shop, located on tranquil Changshu road, in the heart of Shanghai, they display howthey work the ancient elements of China’s traditional furniture into modern living. All of thefurniture pieces are put together with Chinese traditional mortise and tenon joints, rather thannails. The original color and texture of the wood is kept. Painting and glues are avoided.
Pusu’s shop has become a club for lovers of traditional Chinese culture. As well as sellingfurniture they also hold lectures and salon talks, which Chen called “a pivotal measure tonurture the market”.
In less than one year after they opened the shop, Pusu has already started making a profit.They opened a new department called Space Design, which is attracting more and morebusiness including residential space, business space, entertaining and resort space design.
“I believe the right direction is more important than anything,” said Zhou Xinhua, co-founder ofa website called China 30s, which aims to gather people born around 1980 who are nowstruggling to support their own families as well as their parents.
“Many of us want to open our own shops based on our own ideas,” Zhou said. But theprecondition is that you must have a clear and specific market niche, possess a uniqueresource in this field and can financially support yourself, she said.
“In the last four years, most of what I did looks like wasting time. But you never know which of itmay work. It seems I have rich resources now, but you won’t believe how much effort I put into itand how many times I failed,” said Xue Shuai, chief executive officer of renwutaowang.com, whoset up a transaction platform for household services this year.
(China Daily 08/27/2012 page13)