Remember the old saying, “Go west young man”?
Perhaps that impression should be altered to “go east,” as far east as you can get. In other words, head to China and take advantage of the nation’s rapidly expanding consumer market.
I was an eyewitness to the voracity and power of the Chinese consumer in April, when I attended the Hong Kong Houseware Fair. New York may be called the “city that never sleeps,” but Hong Kong really earns that moniker--its citizens don’t sleep because they’re too busy shopping.
My hotel was located in Causeway Bay, a well-known shopping district in Hong Kong. From noon to midnight, the streets were packed with people of all ages heading to and from shops and boutiques of all sorts. I’m not exaggerating when I say that at any given time, I could turn onto a seemingly inconsequential street and be met head on by thousands of Hong Kong citizens--most of them carrying shopping bags.
Can U.S. home furnishings vendors really not find a way to sell to these folks?
Of course it’s not easy to market and sell to international consumers. Any successful venture will have to tailor items to the targeted consumers’ tastes. And some items simply don’t make sense to a foreign culture. Oversized furniture, for instance, wouldn’t suit Chinese consumers who tend to live in smaller homes or apartments.
But many home furnishings items match-up well with Chinese—and other international—consumers. Troy Anderson, co-founder of FilterStream, a personal care vendor and exhibitor at the Hong Kong Houseware Fair, said that international consumers share many of the same wants and needs of their American counterparts.
“The problems that we address with our products are universal,” Anderson said. “For instance, consumers around the world are looking for ways to clean their skin. They have the same problems overseas as American consumers.”
The International Housewares Association and its Housewares Export Council have been helping IHA members to market and sell their products internationally for years. Most recently, the IHA organized and led retail trade missions overseas to countries with emerging economies such as Brazil and Chile. This month, the IHA is heading up a retail trade mission to Scandinavia, including stops in Sweden and Denmark. In December, an IHA-led group will visit India.
“We’ll typically take 10-15 companies, maxing out at 20-25 people,” said Derek Miller, IHA’s vice president, international. “The trips are a great way for executives to gain an understanding and knowledge of retail and distribution in international markets.”
Attendees visit the nations’ top specialty and department stores, along with mass merchants. Highlights of the trips are one-on-one “speed dating” type meetings with retail buyers. Next year, a trip is planned for Brazil and Colombia.
My compliments to the housewares companies that are taking advantage of IHA’s educational trips. I look forward to hearing from vendors who successfully market their brands to international consumers.
On the way to the airport from my Hong Kong trip, I passed a huge freight dock with hundreds of shipping containers waiting to be moved. It occurred to me that probably, few if any, were being unloaded from the U.S.
That’s a lot of missed opportunity.