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Op Ed | 7 Multi-brand Boutiques Transforming Chinese Retail

A new wave of fashion boutiques in far flung cities like Wuhan, Xi’an and Guiyang are creating opportunities for brands in an increasingly competitive Chinese market.
Ai Zhuo, founder of Dressing for Fun | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Meimei Ding

SHANGHAI, China — Chinese consumers are growing weary of the monotonous mono-brand boutique experience. Seeking excitement from a more distinctive and curated brand offering, many are now turning to the growing number of multi-brand fashion boutiques emerging across China. In cities thousands of kilometres from the retail meccas of Shanghai and Beijing, charismatic and clever boutique buyers are fast changing the retail landscape.

There are several reasons for this proliferation besides consumer desire for greater variety in the offer and edit of merchandise. One obvious driver is that retailers are expanding into lesser-developed markets as first-tier city markets get oversaturated.

Take Guiyang, for example, the capital of Guizhou province in the far southwest of the country where multi-brand stores like Sorpresa and P Plus now stock brands like Marni and Vivienne Westwood alongside many emerging international designer labels. Urban markets like Guiyang are not yet substantial enough for some brands to warrant a flagship store but they do provide an attractive customer base looking to shop in an intimate environment.

Guiyang, like many other cities of the same calibre, is nevertheless both dynamic and growing. This rising third-tier city of around 4 million people owes its recent rise to the national agenda which sees investment in the city as a way to close the gap between eastern and western regions. In cases like this, the driver for retail expansion is the Chinese government’s development agenda.

To understand what new multi-brand fashion boutiques are selling and why, it is important to examine key factors that Chinese customers look at when shopping for contemporary and advanced contemporary fashion — a particularly fast-growing segment of the market. The most important is ROI. Although customers accept a wide range of recommended retail price points from 1,000 RMB to 15,000 RMB (US $150 to $2,200), customers want to feel that the price is justified by brand awareness, design, and quality.

Magnet boutiques in second-tier cities can easily span over 1,000 square metres and be the only destination for local consumers.

Second, is the culture of supporting local talent while tapping into international merchandise. Amongst the newer group of Chinese multi-brand fashion boutiques, it is important to note that many have only recently added international brands to what was previously an exclusively Chinese brand assortment. It is still a learning process for some.

Another important point to make is scale. While multi-brand boutiques in Beijing and Shanghai greatly outnumber those in second-tier cities in terms of quantity, the average store size is often much smaller than their counterparts elsewhere. Magnet boutiques in second-tier cities can easily span over 1,000 square metres and be the only destination for local consumers. This means some of them are extremely valuable windows for designers in growing provincial cities.

In this wave, we see a few different types of multi-brand fashion boutiques on the rise. The first type consists of department stores transitioning from the traditional leasing model to building their own multi-brand fashion boutiques. This is often done through buying, joint venture, or consignment models.

This phenomenon hit China's fashion capitals a couple of years ago. SKP, China's top-grossing department store housing brands including Chanel, Gucci and Fendi, launched its own multi-brand called SKP Select with three branches. It now carries brands like Alexander Wang, MM6, Opening Ceremony, Public School and Self Portrait.

Also in Beijing, the Yintai Department Store group developed Shoplinq in 2015, which stocks brands including Moschino, Acne, Thom Browne, Red Valentino, and MSGM. It already has 20 locations across the country with a strong online presence. In Shanghai, K-11 operates its own multi-brand called Kuriosity situated in the B1 level of New World Group's "Art Mall" complex selling Chinese contemporary and advanced contemporary brands alongside global brands like Vivienne Westwood and United Nude.

The second type consists of multi-brand fashion boutiques operated by large retail groups. The third type of Chinese multi-brand revolves around strong local trendsetters and key opinion leaders, like those in Chengdu, which has its own share of highly distinctive multi-brand fashion boutiques.

Collectively, China’s new wave of multi-brand boutiques are buying an interesting mix of local design, hard-to-find international designer labels and a unique edit of big luxury brands. Here are some of those changing the retail landscape in second and third-tier cities all around the country.

Attos
Wuhan, Hubei province; Changsha, Hunan province

With over 200,000 square feet of retail space, the retailer has 30 boutiques in over 16 cities across China, including many in second-tier cities like Ningbo, Wuhan, Xiamen, and Changsha. Attos stocks Saint Laurent, Chloe, Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Kenzo and See by Chloe among many others.

Dressing for Fun
Chengdu, Sichuan province

Stocking one of the most complete collections of J.W. Anderson, Dressing for Fun’s 400-square-metre space embraces the flamboyant and playful manner with which local shoppers interpret fashion in this southwestern city. Stocking both international and local Chinese brands, Dressing for Fun was founded by Ai Zhuo and is known for its exhibitions, magazine selection and lifestyle events.

Graceland
Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, Jiangyin, Jiangsu province

Graceland is a renowned retailer for international brands across luxury and the advanced contemporary sectors in three cities including Beijing. With its elegant flagship in Jiaxing city, where the group's headquarters are based, it stocks brands ranging from Marni to Markus Lupfer and Versace to Vera Wang.

Ooak
Chengdu, Sichuan province

Known for its immaculate curation and store design, the founder and buying director Alice Xu and her team launched the first Ooak boutique in Shanghai's French concession. It stocks brands including Opening Ceremony, Aspinal of London, Alexander Wang, Jonathan Saunders, MM6 and Sophie Hulme. In 2016, Alice expanded to a second location in Jinjiang District, Chengdu in 2016.

P Plus
Shenzhen, Guangdong province; Qingdao, Shangdong province

P Plus is one of the largest multi-brand fashion boutiques in China focusing on accessories. With its headquarters in Shenzhen, the retailer has boutiques in over 20 cities across China including Qingdao, Xiamen, Guiyang, Nanjing, and Xi'an. It carries brands such as Moschino, Jil Sander Navy, Moschino, Kenzo, Neil Barrett and Vivienne Westwood, to name a few.

Sorpresa
Guiyang, Guizhou province

As one of the top-grossing department store chains based in Guiyang, Xingli Department Store has been operating its internal multi-brand fashion boutique since 2015. Sopresa, positioned as a lifestyle boutique spans over 1,400 sqm across three stores in three of Xingli's strongest locations in Guizhou province, stocks brands including Marni, Alberta Ferretti, Blumarine, Tara Jarmon and MSGM amongst others.

Style by HoF
Nanjing, Jiangsu province

Since the acquisition by Sanpower Group in 2014, the long-awaited House of Fraser finally unveiled its new flagship in Xinjiekou, Nanjing's main shopping district. While the retailer has become a home for brands like Michael Kors, Agnes b, G Givenchy, its multi-brand boutique Style by HOF does its own buying for brands like Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, Jil Sander, Paul & Joe and Maison Margiela

Meimei Ding is the chief executive of DFO International, a market development agency with a Shanghai showroom serving international brands across China and Southeast Asia.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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