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  • Jennifer Marks

To Serve the Chinese Consumer

If there's one article in this week's issue that should get the antennae quivering, it's the story of Yue-Sai Kan's planned home store launch in China — and her decision to hire a veteran of the U.S. home textiles industry to execute the plan.

Kan is the Martha Stewart of China — on steroids. Over the past 25 years, as China has marched toward a more economically open, more broadly prosperous society, she has literally taught the country what it means to be a modern Chinese woman — starting in the mid-1980s with a television special that gave most Chinese their first glimpse of the Western world, then teaching women how to wear make-up, writing books on etiquette and how to do business, and launching a line of Barbie-like dolls with Chinese features.

Since 2004, she has hosted a television documentary series — "Yue-Sai's World" — that revolves around international trends in lifestyles and entertainment. Born in Shanghai, raised in Hong Kong, then moving to America, she now stands at the cultural — and commercial — nexus between East and West.

Kan's plan for a home furnishings chain is another effort to instruct the nation. "Now people are beginning to buy their first house; they have to figure out what to do with the home, and entertaining is a very new concept. It's very intimidating — there's space with nothing in it, not even closets," Kan says in HTT's page 1 interview.

She wants to incorporate product from Western suppliers who manufacture in China — a huge opportunity for companies here with product development expertise to enter one of the world's fastest growing consumer markets.

If Kan's venture succeeds, it may inspire others in China to follow suit. Or perhaps, others in India — another hot international market. Last year, India-based Welspun launched the Spaces Home & Beyond chain, which currently operates 12 stores in eight cities. GHCL, Indian parent company of Dan River, last year acquired a British home retailer, is shopping for an American retail chain, and plans to open a chain in India.

Like Kan, both Welspun and GHCL have recruited U.S. home textiles vets into their organizations — albeit to bolster their business in America. But who's to say there won't be a further evolution along Kan's lines?

This column has carped more than once about U.S. suppliers' reluctance to seek out market opportunities beyond North America. Kan's venture may point the way.

More of this, please.

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