House of Yue-Sai to Design for China's Consumers

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, May 7, 2007

The House of Yue-Sai, a new retail home furnishings business, is being developed by Yue-Sai Kan, a Chinese-American entrepreneur who is a leading TV personality, author, and creator of a major cosmetic business dedicated to Asian women.

The first store will open later this year in Shanghai and will focus largely on home textiles, dinnerware, decorative pillows, decorative accessories, as well as some furniture pieces.

The company will be headed by Ian Strickland as ceo; he has been the coo of B & Q China, a division of British B & Q. Rich Langone has been named senior vp, creative director.

In an interview at her home here, Yue-Sai Kan explained, "The whole concept of interior decorating in China is just about a 10-year-old phenomenon. People never owned houses before. The government owned them and assigned one to you."

"Now," Kan continued, "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. There are no interior design courses, and the idea for design of objects is not a big deal."

Kan sees a major opportunity in the mainstream market. "Ikea and B & Q are doing very well in China, and at the luxury end there's U.S. furniture, like Baker."

The stores will focus on "creating a luxury product for the masses," explained Langone. "We have the opportunity to create about 80% of what we will be selling in China, but also we'll be looking for things like Thai silks, European bed linens. We're going to create a multi-cultural environment with a Western influence." And using American suppliers that produce in China is definitely on the agenda, he said.

One of the reasons for using products created by Western companies, Kan explained, "is that the Chinese now are not yet very creative. It reminds me of Japan after World War II, and they have grown far beyond that now. And today in China it is very expensive to build a luxury brand — at least $100 million."

The opportunity for the House of Yue-Sai "is that the middle and upper middle class are expanding really fast. They have more disposable income and not just for clothes but furnishings also — sheets, table linens, curtains," she noted. And the quality level is getting higher and higher; they had no idea before what quality was. Remember the factories were run by farmers." Today, she remarked "China is like a frontier town — like the Wild, Wild West."

The advantage of the House of Yue-Sai, she explained, "is that my brand is known by about 90% of the population. It's logical to brand out from cosmetics and beauty — other forms of my lifestyle — to how to build your home."

In the stores, there will be a women's corner, a men's corner, a pet corner. "And we will have a signature look — modern Chinese with an international flair," she noted. Colors will be very influenced by modern Asia, not retro Chinese, she added.

As for putting together the product mix and presentation, she laughingly said, "Rich will have a job there. He has to control me. He also has to build and mold his team in a year — a job that would take five years."

The first store will be about 5,250 square feet and will include a corporate gift service, Langone related, as well as services for interior design and a gourmet food counter with chocolates, candy, and a private brand wine.

There is a very aggressive plan to open more stores, both said, with at least 100 in the near term for the Shanghai and Beijing areas, as well as satellite store-in-store concepts and airport outposts.

To coincide with the first store opening, Kan, already the author of five books dedicated to self-improvement, will publish a book interviewing 25 top international designers "that will be the first book on interior design in China."

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