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The Power of 'Britishness' and how to expand a British Brand successfully into the Asia-PAC market’

By Maggie Bolger, Co-Founder and CEO, Maggie & Rose (http://www.maggieandrose.com)

The Asia-Pac market offers huge opportunity for the right business, but there are many considerations when launching into a new territory.  Making sure your brand is relevant, that the business can be adapted to an international market and that you can handle cultural influencers are all key factors in the decision process.Maggie & Rose is a lifestyle brand for families.  We offer private members clubs, pre-school nurseries, parties and events and an ‘At Home’ range.  We launched our first club in Hong Kong in 2015 and have recently signed a £20 million joint venture deal to expand a further ten clubs into mainland China. Being a quintessentially British brand has been key to our success and the driving force behind our growth in this market. The power of Britishness shouldn’t be underestimated, but there are also key factors to be able to expand a British brand successfully in this market.

 

Innovation is key

Whilst it’s getting harder for boutique businesses to flourish in the UK, the Chinese market in particular is looking for fresher, edgier and more innovative businesses. It’s a hugely exciting time to be in business in China as they are looking to challenge traditional business models, move away from the ‘Made in China’ stamp and make a move towards a more authentic and original way of producing and providing.

                                                           

Find the right partnership

We’ve seen a lot of British brands try – and fail -  to expand into the Asia-Pac market alone.  This market moves at an exponential pace and there isn’t much room for time to assess the market as it is changing so frequently; it is difficult to spot trends and forecast without some background experience.  Finding the right partner who can help navigate this is invaluable – but it is not easy.   It is important to partner with someone who has the experience in the market you are looking to expand into, but who also understands your business needs. 

There is often a fear of partnership, that it is going to take your business in the wrong direction or be too much of a departure.  I have found that our best partners, both in our UK and International business have been strongest where we are weakest.  For Maggie & Rose this has been in property. Without a property built fit-for-purpose, we are totally unable to deliver our offering and the whole Maggie & Rose experience, so for each of our expansions we have partnered with businesses who have more experience in property than us.

When we built our Beach Club in Hong Kong, we partnered with the amazing founders of Duddell’s - who have recently launched in London. Duddell’s have strong interiors game and great branding. They were key to helping us find our HK space and working with them gave us a real insight into understanding what it means to take a British brand abroad.

Likewise, for our Joint Venture partnership into mainland China, we partnered with a property business who understand the importance for us to deliver the experience we do in the UK. We design everything from top to bottom and really go all out on our ideas for our setting so as a property business, they understand and are well versed in all the ins and outs of what it takes to secure property in China – which is a key challenge in itself.

 

Remaining authentic

Taking the time to slowly build your branding, refine your aesthetic and define what your offering really is, will not only set you aside from other competing British businesses, but also make your brand really attractive to international business markets.  Our partners were drawn to our 10 years of our own IP – we have built a strong brand and whilst our business model can be and has been replicated, our IP mean that no one can quite do it the way we do.

Having that IP will mean that we can control how we adapt the Britishness of our brand in a way that also stays true to the Chinese way of life. We are not looking to create a Chinese version of our brand, that’s why we’ve decided to take it slowly and assess the needs of our local market. The Chinese are really interested in new ways of doing things and love Britishness.

 

The Business of Culture

The “Britishness” of our brand has been a key driving force of our success in this market, however we have had to adapt our way of doing business to be appropriate for the Chinese market.  You will need to be flexible and adjust your approach according to what is relevant.  This can take time, but it also offers huge lessons that can be taken home and applied in different circumstances.  The Chinese are very family orientated; there’s a misconception that they are very rigid and formal but our experience has shown that family is the priority, which is why our brand is so appealing.  It’s very important to be up to date with cultural nuances such as the practice of exchanging business cards when at meetings.  Being aware of these details will put you one step ahead.