ITAL­IAN PAS­SION

An Zhongyan brings a new re­tail­ing model for im­ported fur­ni­ture to Bei­jing and helps a range of causes along the way, re­ports

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL -

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 li­fusheng@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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