Stop 4: Shanghai

Shanghai by Cecilia Schulz

Day 1:

Why Did I Tell You I was Going to Shanghai?  I Wanna be With You Tonight!  OK OK…I digress.

The flight over to Shanghai started with an in-flight video about seatbelts and breathing apparatuses falling from the ceiling and procedures for sliding down the chute of the plane “in case we need to know”.  Thanks.  Really, as a retailer, all I want to know is where to get the jumpsuit worn by the actors in the video.  They’re blue and very Devo.

We took the Maglev high speed train that we clocked at 431 km/hr into the Pudong .  Pretty cool.  Our guide told us that it will take fifty years for the Chinese to pay it off…fail China.   We arrived during a chilly drizzle.  Our tour of the Jing Mao Tower was cancelled…no visibility.  So far, Shanghai gets a B.  A quick diversion to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall was a quick save.  Upstairs featured a detailed model of the entire city.  We needed it as the city is big.  Ok now a B+.  We get back on the bus for only a few seconds and we arrive at our hotel.  Hold it…comfortable, centrally located, clean, modern.  This city gets an A.  Keep up the good work, Shanghai!

Without knowing where you are, an evening walk will tell you.  Everyone is out for a stroll.  That tells you somewhere in Asia.  There are a lot of people.  Ok, possible China.  It’s very upscale.  Maybe Beijing?…but here’s the clue…it feels like New York City.  There’s no doubt we’re in Shanghai.

Day 2:

CCP Educated and Mao Postcards

There’s so much to see here.  Wherever we start, it’s going to be interesting and enjoyable.  So, we jumped in.  On Sunday, Steve, Elinore and I took a cab over to the French Concession part of the city to see the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.  This is where Mao Zedong, Chen Duxiu and a few others met to discuss the CCP in 1921.  The French police ran them out and they had to finish their business on a boat in another province.  Since the 1950’s the building has been a museum filled with interesting tidbits of history and guards that follow you around and feed your paranoia.  Taking a photo didn’t help.  Hey, I didn’t know!  From there, we strolled through extravagant boutiques, restaurants and bars.  We eventually stumbled onto an “antique” market which was the perfect environment for bargaining.  When you’re tired, bargaining isn’t much entertainment.  It’s work!  But when you are alert, it’s fun.  You get to know people, you learn about interesting artifacts and you usually end up leaving with something fun whether it is merchandise or just a good story.  For the vendors, it’s the same.  I found some Mao Zedong postcards (never can have enough) and silk covered notebooks.  I saw life-size statues of the terra cotta solders of Xian.  Can’t get that home in my suitcase.  Oh, but if I could…

Day 3:

Fall into The Gap

The Gap has recently opened in Shanghai and has been well received.  After doing business in 32 countries, it was about time.  Sales in North American, which enjoys 74% of the business, have been suffering because of the economic turndown and the business needed to look elsewhere.   Originally, Gap was going to franchise, but the business looked as if it had huge opportunity, so Gap went head on and managed the business on its own.  Claire Malloy, head of China’s store operations gave an overview of her retail life and the progress of The Gap in China.  China trains their managers in the US so they can experience the culture of the company.  Their fashion relies heavily on what occurs in Japan and South Korea although they bring the best of the best for Gap into China for their Chinese customer. The 1969 jeans were familiar and so are the Gap t-shirts.  In fact, the t-shirts are the largest seller in the store.  The Chinese love the brand and the idea of an American style.  The rest of the apparel is unfamiliar.  I simply don’t see the styles in the US.  Hopefully, they will make it across the oceans.  They’re stunning.

The Gap has much competition in Shanghai, but they are fearless.  Their model is based upon excellent customer service.  Frankly, the service in department stores is excellent so I don’t think the concept is new for the Chinese.  In The Gap, the store is set up for success if all associates are available and trained to help the customer.  They work to help the customer with accompanying merchandise.  Additionally, they assure that sizes are available and replenish immediately upon a purchase.  Alterations are even available!  Part of their services is to educate the customer about the upstairs kids and baby departments and any occurring promotions.

Mark Fairwhale was our afternoon stop.  This company’s founder, partner and current art director is Mark Cheung.  He studied design in the US and returned to China 18 years ago.  He called himself a fashion designer and set up shop.  Cheung thinks the Chinese are less mature when it comes to fashion and need to have it explained to them through his line.  The goal of Mark Fairwhale is to provide excellent quality merchandise and lead fashion trends in China.  It has a culture of art and a dedication to its customers.  The two men’s lines have a European appeal and have been attractive to men who are 25-35 years old with casual wear and jeans and then another line aimed toward the 35-45 year old man with cleaner, more classic designs.  Recently, the company added a woman’s line focusing on the casual female.  Chai Kim Fatt, the general manager of Mark Fairwhale said the focus on menswear is not beyond the 45 year old as older men value simplicity in China, but they realize this will change and they will need to provide a design for their aging customers.

The evening brought on some serious tourist.  We went to the Shanghai Acrobatic Show.  This event was loaded with Westerners.  Usually, this would bother me as I like to step away from my hemispheroids (?) when I travel.   When the lights went out and ushers walked the aisle with “no photography” signs, I forgot where I was and why.  The talented acrobats did everything your mother told you not to do.  If my back bent like the women in the troupe, I would be in traction.  I would never trust a man flying with a sheet.  Shocking to see…almost painful!  Still, the show cracked me up, made me gasp and grab the person next to me…sorry Carlos.

Day 4:

What We See is What They Want Us to See

The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) of Shanghai is the largest of the Chambers in Asia.  It was developed to promote free trade, open market, private enterprise and unrestricted flow of information by supporting healthy business environments.  Its mission is to strengthen US-China business relations.

David Basmajian, the director of communications and publications, presented to the students how the AmCham’s location was no mistake.  Shanghai is the economic center of China focusing on industry, finance and commerce of all types.    According to Basmajian, The Chinese economy grew by 9.9% in 2010 and foreign investment employed 8.6% of Chinese labor force.  The majority of the city’s GDP comes from services as it’s growing away from labor which is what China wants.  This year alone, there are 6,622 US projects happening in China.  The market is good here and AmCham is working to keep it that way.

Scott Jenkins of Lowes Global Sourcing has been working in China for five years.  His perspective about being an expat was an eye-opener.  He said that what we see is what the Chinese government wants us to see.  Business in China is about trusting, but verifying.  He gave situations he had encountered to demonstrate how business in China changes, “…and just when you have figured it out, you are derailed.”  Jenkins works on quality assurance as Lowes ships products to distribution centers back the US.  He commented that he had recently gone into a factory to oversee the development of floor treatments for Lowes.  As interesting and wonderful as it was to witness such an enterprise, he saw people working very hard for long hours.  He said that since the visit, he will never walk on a floor and think the same way.  It’s a new appreciation.  Again, China is a life changing experience.

In the afternoon, we met with Pamela Giss.  She is an attorney in Shanghai with Armstrong Teasdale.  Her work is about assisting companies in the US who want to do business in China. Up until now, I think the students clearly understand that conducting business in China is not at all like conducting business at home.  There is so much to know about employment law, land use and culture.  Many businesses have attempted to enter the Chinese market and have faced an expensive retreat.  The idea behind doing business in China is getting a partner who can teach you how to “learn the dance” and build a network.  Trust in another is trial and error.  Again, we heard trust, but verify.  She said that China is a well- greased machine in that there are plenty of people to work and the best of the best are the leaders.  The Chinese plan, execute plans and waste no time.

These two visits provided an angle about retailing in China that the students hadn’t yet encountered.  We heard from expats who have embedded themselves in the middle of the culture and have worked to network and build relationships.  When we first learned about China, one of the initial lessons was about the importance of relationships in Chinese business endeavors.  The lesson was easily reinforced today.

The Jing Mao Tower provided all of us the opportunity to let loose and be a tourist.  It is the fifth tallest building in the world comprised of offices and a Hyatt Hotel on floors 53 to 87.  From the observation deck, you can look down onto the lobby…if you have vertigo, it isn’t recommended.  Everyone commented how odd it was for us to have such a clear day to view.  Odd or not, we were delighted with the cooperative weather.  The view was breathtaking as you could see for kilometers J  I learned that the building was climbed back in 2001 by a shoe salesman who was “struck by a rare impulse” (I can understand that, I guess)and then again in 2007.

Day 5:

Yuyuan Gardens then getting out of Dodge…or Shanghai

The Yuyuan Gardens are old…real old.  They were initially built in the 16th century by the son of an official of the Ming Dynasty.  The story is that it took this son 20 years to complete the project.  Shoot…all I did was make good grades and stayed out of trouble, but maybe he had better resources.  Despite his efforts, the gardens experienced some rough times.  Merchants owned them for a while.  They were utilized by the British troops, the imperial troops, the Japanese made a mess of them in the 1940’s and my guess is a bunch of rebellious teenagers had their way with them as well.  In the late 20th century, the government repaired the Gardens and has been sharing this national monument ever since.  The Gardens are separated by towers, rooms, limestone rocks and zig-zagged bridges over carp filled ponds.  Frankly, they are pretty and serene.  It’s the kind of place where you’d like to break out lunch and a good book…as long as there weren’t enormous groups of American tourists.  That part would be disturbing, but let’s say it was quiet and cool and desolate…which it wasn’t.  Upon completing the walking tour, we were led into a large area of trinket mongers selling chop sticks, fans and imitation jade.  There was a Starbucks (I’m not kidding) and supposedly the best place to get dumplings.  I was hungry so I stood in line for an hour to check it out.  Someone had to do it.

So, this Paris of the East won my heart.  I know the glam was there for me to see and not question, but the diversity and liveliness of the city had me compare it to New York…my hometown.  It’s skyline reminded me of the Jetson’s (did I just date myself?…look it up!) home.  The pace of the city told me it was a happening place.  The food reminded me I wasn’t the first foreigner to arrive.   Ha…it was the first time I had vegemite!  Fashion, language and attitude…it was all here.  I hope to return again one day.