Martha Ste­wart eyes China

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By AMY HE in New York amyhe@chi­nadai­

In this dy­namic time there is an ex­pand­ing wealth.” Martha Ste­wart, home life­style maven and tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity

When some­one men­tions Martha Ste­wart and China in the same breath, most peo­ple think they’re talk­ing about sets of din­ner­ware.

But as Alibaba tweeted re­cently, “Martha Ste­wart — the queen of all things #Home — is com­ing to China!”

Is China ready for Amer­ica’s su­per­star home-life­style maven?

Ex­perts say the key to Martha Ste­wart’s po­ten­tial ex­pan­sion of her brand into China will be her strong local part­ner­ship with Alibaba’s Tmall plat­form.

Ste­wart made a strong show­ing when she head­lined Alibaba’s inau­gu­ral Tmall Su­per Kitchen event in Shang­hai at the end of Septem­ber, an event that brought to­gether 1,200 of Alibaba’s house­ware part­ners to show­case to con­sumers.

Ste­wart, known in the US for her cook­ing and dec­o­rat­ing tele­vi­sion show, gave a key­note ad­dress at the event, which served as an in­tro­duc­tion of her brand to Chi­nese cus­tomers.

Her talk was live-streamed on Tmall’s mo­bile app and on, which is also owned by Alibaba.

“In this dy­namic time there is an ex­pand­ing wealth, and that is in turn cre­at­ing a grow­ing, young mid­dle class with un­prece­dented pur­chas­ing power,” Ste­wart said.

“They have the op­por­tu­nity to fo­cus on qual­ity of life within their homes, us­ing all the won­der­ful new prod­ucts that you can get a glimpse of here at this show to­day,” she added.

Her prod­uct line will face stiff com­pe­ti­tion in the Chi­nese con­sumer mar­ket, where scores of both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional brands have long es­tab­lished a pres­ence, ex­perts said.

“When I heard that she was look­ing at the China mar­ket, one as­sumes she sees the grow­ing mid­dle class and grow­ing op­por­tu­nity to help the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion learn about en­ter­tain­ing and home de­sign­ing, as op­posed to the more de­vel­oped mar­kets,” said Wendy Lieb­mann, CEO of WSL Strate­gic Re­tail.

“Ob­vi­ously she’s think­ing — which is maybe pre­sump­tu­ous of her — that the Chi­nese con­sumer will look to an Amer­i­can icon to help them think about how they should live their lives,” Lieb­mann said.

“Un­der the aus­pices of Alibaba with their huge po­si­tion in the mar­ket­place — both as a re­tailer and a brand li­cens­ing gi­ant — one as­sumes that if they’re part­nered with Alibaba, there is some good due dili­gence that’s been done,” she added.

Ste­wart did not go into specifics about which prod­ucts will be of­fered in China or how they will be tai­lored to the mar­ket, and Alibaba de­clined to dis­close fur­ther de­tails.

But as John Tal­bott, as­so­ci­ate direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search in Re­tail­ing at the In­di­ana Univer­sity Kel­ley School of Busi­ness, put it, brand ex­pan­sion into China will re­quire a local part­ner who can “trans­late” the Martha Ste­wart aes­thetic for the Chi­nese mar­ket.

“It may not be one in­di­vid­ual com­pany, it may be several com­pa­nies that have ca­pa­bil­i­ties in several cat­e­gories,” he said. “That part­ner is go­ing to be an ex­pert in the Chi­nese mar­ket place. They’re go­ing to com­bine forces — Martha is go­ing to en­sure the in­tegrity of the brand as she en­vi­sions it stays true.”

Peng Liu, a pro­fes­sor at Cor­nell Univer­sity who re­searches the re­tail in­dus­try, said that Alibaba is a suit­able part­ner be­cause of its ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor and its part­ner­ships with other home goods brands.

“I think there’s a lot of po­ten­tial,” he said. “Even though there may be com­pe­ti­tion, on the other side of the coin, the Chi­nese mid­dle class still feels they’re not sat­is­fied.

“They need more, be­cause the pop­u­la­tion, even if a small per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion likes the brand or like the de­signs, [Ste­wart could] still have a huge mar­ket,” he said.

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