An Zhongyan brings a new retailing model for imported furniture to Beijing and helps a range of causes along the way, reports
An Zhongyan has a passion for Italian furniture, an affinity that changed the course of her life and retailing in Beijing. “Italian furniture is simple, fashionable and undoubtedly a trend-setter in the global industry,” she said.
native Beijinger, An explained the fascination was the result of her trip to a Milan furniture expo in 1998. Another outcome of the visit was the ambition to make Italian furniture accessible to more people in the capital city.
Days after her return from Italy, An established Vita Industry & Trade Co and acquired franchises to sell 14 well-known Italian brands including B& B, Boffi and Flou.
“At the time, we had the most of Italian brands on the Chinese mainland and this gave us a scale advantage from the very beginning,” she recalled.
In addition to her eagerness to realize her ambition, she said there was another reason behind her bold move.
“In Italy, one brand usually specializes in one specific type of products. For example, B&B manufactures sofas, Boffi is known for its bathroom equipment and Flou makes bedding.
“But we Chinese people tend to buy entire suites of furnishings. The more Vita has, the more likely that we can offer them matching items.”
An said representatives from the 14 brands were greatly surprised when they saw their products were rearranged in suites in different sections in the company’s first demo hall in Beijing.
The ingenious and bold idea even caused a stir in Italy’s furniture industry and is reportedly a case study used in the European country’s MBA courses. An also invited designers from Italy to help ensure better results in furniture style and color.
The company soon gained foothold in Beijing. In 1999, it won orders for Matteo Grassi 1880 leather lounge chairs for VIP rooms at Terminal Two of the Beijing Capital International Airport.
Shooting to fame
Orders from other several large customers including Beijing Music Radio and showbiz celebrities further fueled the company’s fame.
“To some extent, Vita soon became a ‘ wind vane’ in the capital city’s furniture industry,” said An when she reviewed her company’s development.
With its popularity growing, the company opened a second demo hall in 2002 at Jinbao Street in the heart of Beijing and later introduced another three brands: Misuraemme, Seven Salotti and Ciacci&Kreaty.
Vita further consolidated its leading position in 2008 when it launched an 8,000-squaremeter demo hall in eastern Beijing, said An.
Meanwhile she traveled frequently between China and Italy to learn about new trends and products and bring them back for customers.
The company has now become a franchised dealer of 20 Italian brands and owns four demo halls throughout the capital city, with the latest opening in 2010.
Different from other dealers, the company has installed bar counters in its halls so that customers can sit and have a drink as they come for promotions of newly introduced pieces.
Due to its achievements, the company was rated the best dealer at the Milan Furniture Fair last April.
Not content with being a dealer, An established a furniture manufacturing plant with one classmate of hers in 2003.
Specializing in eco-friendly wood products, her company Hestia has been frequently rated among the nation’s top 30 wood door manufacturers.
It also won a gold prize for design at the sixth China International Door Industry Exhibition in 2007.
In addition to more than 100 chain stores across the country, the company has made inroads in such rising markets as Russia and South Africa.
Devotion to charity
An has also been devoted to helping others.
In 1998, China suffered floods in many regions. Despite financial pressures at Vita, which was established in the same year, An donated hundreds of thousands of yuan to victims.
Also in 1998, after learning her alma mater Beijing No 6 Middle School encountered financial difficulties as it prepared for its 75th anniversary, An helped solve the problem and made the celebration the most grand in the school’s history.
Wang Dan, a retired teacher from the school, remarked that “An Zhongyan is among the few who have extended their hands to the school despite its large number of rich and successful alumni”.
Another examples are her aid to poor families.
Days before the Spring Festival in 2002, a local newspaper reported that 40 impoverished households in the suburbs of Beijing would not enjoy the CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala, the most popular Chinese entertainment program on the eve of the traditional festival, because they could not afford TV sets.
An then purchased 40 TV sets and delivered them to villagers the day before the festival.
She also offered a hand to a needy girl named Ouyang Yuqian.
On an evening in early 2003, An saw a report on TV about the 17- year- old girl whose father was diagnosed with uremia and mother had an operation to remove a tumor in her head.
The hospital bills made Ouyang decide to give up her dream of going to university despite her excellent academic performance.
The tuition and fees were far beyond the means of her family, she said. Moved by her story, An helped Ouyang cover
her school fees and living expenses during four years at the University of International Business and Economics.
As well, as a deputy of the district people’s congress, the entrepreneur also visited the Fengtai district detention center in 2008.
Due to a tight budget, the center had no air conditioning and police officers were often soaked in sweat in summer.
In July of the year, An donated 141 air conditioners to the center. She donated another 30 in July 2012 and three this August. Contact the writer at email@example.com
An and university student recipient Ouyang Yuqian.
Donation of TVs to poor villagers in the suburbs of Beijing.
Police in Bejing’s Fengtai district benefited from An Zhongyan’s donation of air conditioners.