Louis Vuitton, 157 years; Channel, 98 years, Giorgio Armani, 36 years… What Chinese brands need now is time; this is the common view of many brand founders.
When Yingzheng Fashion opened its store at Yansha Beijing, one of the top fashion malls in the capital city, Ma Ying told herself that she would do whatever it takes to make Yingzheng the country’s leading brand of business wear for women, no matter how long it takes.
The legend and the choice
As a domestic brand based in Beijing, Yingzheng had a seemingly legendary history. Founded in 2000, it opened a store at Zhongyou Department Store in 2001 and became one of the top best-selling brands there that year. Ms. Ma, the founder of the brand and the chairwoman of Beijing Mashi Jilong Garments Co., Ltd., said, apart from the golden opportunity, the secret of their success at early stage lied in the potential of the company.
Zhongyou is the first department store opening the door to Yingzheng and Ma therefore has a special feeling for it. “Zhongyou Department Store was making big adjustment to its business structure at that time,” recalled Ma. “This was a good chance for a new brand and, although with some doubts, the business manager decided to have us. They gave us a small place and that’s where we started.” The fact showed that Yingzheng stood the test.
The store realized astonishing sales in three days after opening and accomplished monthly task in a week. This is a result that Ma has taken pride in since then. She knew clearly that, although a rising market was a contributing factor at the time, the decisive factor was that the customers favored the brand because of its high quality. And quality has always been the key criterion for Yingzheng.
As a result, Ma steadily built up her confidence and continuously improving product quality. She had the first taste of success by emphasizing the quality of business suits for women.
In order to improve the brand value and to realize the goal of creating “Armani in China”, Ma shifted the business focus to high fashion business wear in 2006. But she faced a difficult decision to make during the process of carrying out the strategy.
Yingzheng was a startup domestic brand at the time and this had become a big obstacle for Ma and her team at high-end negotiations. “The difficulty was beyond the imagination of many people, and even second-tier foreign brands fared better than us at high-end market,” said Ma. She felt the pressure when domestic malls favored international brands over domestic ones.
A friend proposed a solution of registering a brand in a foreign country before opening franchised stores and coming back to domestic market. After transformation, the brand would appear more attractive to the malls in the country. For a while, the solution got the attention of the frustrated entrepreneur.
But then, she asked herself a question: what’s the point? After the transformation, is this still the brand she wanted?
A quick success and the lifelong dream, how to choose? Ma Ying took one year thinking about the question.
Looking back at those days, Ma said it was an open choice between getting a foreign ID and sticking to the old brand. But she also said it was lucky for her to choose the latter, for by doing so, she got the economic benefits and, more importantly, the sense of satisfaction.
The price and the gains
From day one, Yingzheng has impressed the partners with outstanding performance and all the cooperating shopping malls have good words to say about the brand.
Speaking of the success of Yingzheng after shifting business focus to high fashion, Ma said she was especially grateful to a man, Manager Zhou of Procurement at Yansha Youyi Shopping City, for he saw the potentials of Yingzheng with years of professional experience in the field.
“I told him he was a very important person during the history of Yingzheng,” said Ma. She said Yingzheng would not have become a leading brand if Yansha shut the door to her back then. Meanwhile, the opportunity that Yansha offered and the success at the department store known for high-end fashion in Beijing helped Ma Ying see clearly the real path and goal of development.
“In spite of the success in the market, Yingzheng was nothing but a small brand for Yansha and the only thing we could do was to present our concepts to people and to get more attention,” said Ma. “In order to promote the brand, we used brand new designs and integrated market channels. The goal is to be the best business wear brand for women in China.” As a result, Ma made a bold decision to give up some market segments. The adventurous leader said the future positioning and development was much more important than temporary interests.
It proved that the price was paid worthwhile and Yingzheng has taken off on a fast lane ever since.
Yingzheng showed its quality at Yansha and wined many fans as a domestic brand. After transformation, the brand had made great progress in terms of product quality and market strategy. Passing by the store, many people would stop and say it must be Yingzheng, for they made really good business suits.
“It must be Yingzheng,” the highly recognition of the brand has been a great encouragement for Ma Ying. Since the very beginning, they have targeted at lawyers, teachers, business women, top executives, and financial elites, for these are the main customers of Yingzheng. But different professionals have different requirements on clothing. For example, lawyers favor elegant style and dark colors without many accessories, for they want to give people the impression of being serious and authoritative. While teachers like bright colors and lively cut so as to appear friendly to students. To get to know your customers, this is another secret of success for Yingzheng.
In answering the question of the biggest gain for Yingzheng after a decade of development, Ma said what’s important for her and the team was the respect from partners and the recognition from customers.
The style and the future
The success of Yingzheng shows the potentials of domestic brands. They match up with and even outperform their foreign rivals. This also urges the shopping malls to think twice about local brands when they make business decisions.
Don’t be a blind copy cat and don’t follow the fashion trend, stick to its own style, these have been the philosophies that Yingzheng sticks to. In order to meet the future challenges, Yingzheng is ready to embrace more changes.
“During last five years, we kept low profile and focused on brand quality,” said Ma. “We’re going to make a change now and the main task is to publicize the brand name. Apart from product quality, we’ll spend more time and energy on marketing, training, and brand managing.”
Ma said they would open more stores and would be glad to have more people joining in the team. They hope that more people see Yingzheng and witness its progresses.
The target customers of Yingzheng are intellectuals with independent thoughts and the basic requirement for sales team is to keep up with their pace. As for the training focus of shopping guides at stores, Ma believed that effective communication skills were much more important than sales techniques. “The customers are independent, so what they need is professional and sincere service instead of simply telling them what to wear.”
Having done business for years, Ma still manages to maintain her quality as a designer. She insisted that what she had done was meaningful and she wanted to create a Chinese brand with future. She wouldn’t mind if no one knows about the founder and designer of the brand, and she would be satisfied if people remember the brand and accept the products.
Ma has a Korean friend and he’s a successful businessman about to retire. He is now engaged in another big project, that is, to interpret Sun Tzu on the Art of War from Chinese to Korean. Ma said she was greatly impressed and that the commitment and a pure mind was all that needs to succeed.
Ma said a customer from Hong Kong tried on their clothes the other day at the store. “This is made in China?” she was surprised. “This is so much more comfortable than those I bought from foreign countries.” But Ma was not surprised at all. “The gap with international brands shrinks in terms of quality, technologies, and design,” she said. “What we don’t have is culture and time is a short-board that we can’t jump over. In comparison with decades- and even centuries-old foreign brands, Chinese brands are young. So we have to be patient and please give them time to grow and to get mature.”