Martha Stewart eyes China
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 Youku.com, 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.