Reaching China’s Emerging Luxury Class: 2 Brands’ Strategies

Middle Class Estimated At Upwards of 150 Million And Growing; Consumers Hungry For Entry-Level Luxury Products That Offer Status As Well As Quality

China's middle class is expected grow exponentially in the next 20 years. Graphic © Foreign Policy magazine

Spending by China's middle class is expected to grow exponentially in the next 20 years. Graphic © Foreign Policy magazine

It has become a well-established fact that companies of all stripes are looking at the Chinese market as a source of sustainable revenue over the long term, as the country’s growing middle class increasingly becomes a consumer class on par with many more established markets. However, as many brand marketers — particularly from western countries — have found, reaching the Chinese consumer can be a complicated task, as the Chinese market differs greatly from other developing and developed markets…another well-established fact.

Today, Investopedia examines two strategies that have been adopted by western brands like Luxottica and Coach in their quest for market share in China’s huge, competitive entry-level luxury market. While it will be incredibly difficult for ambitious brands to unseat luxury powerhouses like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Porsche in China, as this article notes, brands that adopt a specifically China-centric strategy when dealing with the middle class may create a strong foundation for future growth:

An attractive way for investors to play on the birth of the burgeoning Chinese middle class is to take a look at the purveyors of entry-level luxury goods. While here in the United States we have cut back on high-priced lattes and designer shoes, demand for these items has grown overseas. Today, the Chinese middle class stands at an estimated 100 million to 150 million citizens, and there is still room for expansion.

It’s All about Sunglasses and Purses
While you may not recognize the name, you are probably familiar with Luxottica’s products. As the largest retailer and manufacturer of sunglasses and glasses, the company operates under several major brands, including its wholly owned Ray Ban brand, or licensed brands such as Versace, Chanel and Polo Ralph Lauren. Luxottica sells its eyewear through its retail outlets including Lens Crafters and The Sunglass Hut. The key to Luxottica’s Asian plan lies in the acquisition of three major players in the Chinese market: Modern Sight Optics with its 28 stores in Shanghai, Minglong and its113 stores in Guangdong and Xueliang’s 79 stores in Beijing. This brings Luxottica’s total Chinese penetration to 270 stores. In addition, the company plans to expand its LensCrafters brand into the country, operating 90 stores. The company continues to mint cash, pulling in 80 million euros for the first quarter of 2009.

Coach Inc. is hoping that the very successful strategy it implemented in Japan to grow its market share from less than 2% in 2000 to nearly 12% in 2008, works in China. Currently, the handbag market in China is only a $1.2 billion industry, similar to where Japan was in 2000. And like in 2000 Japan, Coach operates at just a small fraction of that; around 3%. The luxury maker of purses and other leather goods hopes to achieve a target of $250 million in retail sales and 10% market share over the next five years. Coach now operates 26 locations in the nation. This includes eight locations in Hong Kong, two in casino-rich Macau, four in Shanghai and four in Beijing. To continue with its market share goals, Coach is planning on opening about 50 additional locations in China during the next five years.

Bottom Line
In the United States, luxury and consumer discretionary companies are having a rough time during the global crisis. But in China, where the middle class is just getting started, demand for luxury goods is growing. Both Luxottica and Coach offer investors a way to play that budding market.

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One response to “Reaching China’s Emerging Luxury Class: 2 Brands’ Strategies

  1. Hi there, I could not find any way to contact you, and so I really hope that you read this comment. I own a website covering leather purses, and wondered if you might like to swap links with me. I have submitted my contact address if you choose to get in touch. Thanks.

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