Zong Qinghou, founder of Chinese drinks giant Hangzhou Wahaha Group, is diversifying his holdings. His ambitious new venture is developing China’s version of London’s famed Harrods or Paris’ Lafayette.
Named China’s Richest Man by Forbes, Zong wants to bring European clothing and accessories brands to his new shopping malls throughout China, China Daily reports.
The first Wahaha mall – Waow Plaza – opened in Hangzhou earlier this year with a $273 million investment. Zong plans to open 100 Waow Plazas across the country in the next three to five years.
Waow Plazas would provide a one-stop experience of shopping, dining, and entertainment. What you will find at Waow are niche luxury brands that are mostly unknown to Chinese consumers. The Hangzhou Waow Plaza features over 40 European brands.
UK brands like Cambridge Satchel Company, TM Lewin, and Nicholas Kirkwood are at the top of his recruitment list. “We are looking for mid-market boutique brands rather than luxury, because the percentage of the Chinese population that can afford mid-market brands is far greater,” Zong said.
The new boutique malls for European brands will be welcome, Zong reasoned, because many brand owners have had difficulty finding a trusted Chinese distributor, and many Chinese are reluctant to pay European manufacturers up front in case products are not delivered. “But our malls will provide the perfect solution,” Zong added.
“I think Wahaha would be a good partner in China because they know the market very well,” said Julie Deane, the managing director of Cambridge Satchel. She said that Zong’s proposal made her realize the Chinese market is more accessible than she previously imagined.
“We will charge our retail brands fair rents, and be very honest in our business dealings. We will also make our malls unique,” Zong said.
Zong thinks the switch to a different industry will not be difficult, because, he said, “the skills of doing business are highly transferable across industries, whether it be food or retail.”
photo credit: spirosk photography