Researching the Market before you Start your China Business: A Photography Gallery Story

Is there a market opportunity for my business idea? Is now the right moment? Do I have all the required market insights to go ahead? What is the best location?

These are some of the questions that entrepreneurs have to answer before they set up their businesses in China. Steven Harris ticked all the boxes before he opened m97 Gallery in Shanghai, one of the best contemporary photography galleries in town. His background as a photographer and journalist, and his China knowledge where he studied and worked in a number of projects during several years, gave him the right grounding for what has become a successful venture.

Today we will go through the steps he followed in his market research before he finally opened m97 Gallery.

#1. Researching the Photographic Art Scene in Beijing: “Assessment: Risky Business. Wait & See”
“The original idea back in 2003 was to open a photography gallery in Beijing. We were considering Dashanzi Art District (798 Art Zone) as the perfect location for our business. The area is great, architecturally unique with its fifty year old military factory buildings, and the location the contemporary artist community migrated to in the late 90’s.
The main reason why we did not go ahead at that time: the possibility (and constant fact-based rumors) of that area being shut down by the government, as its value and location had transformed it into prime real estate with potential better used for them. We decided it was too risky to invest our savings there and face an eviction a few months later, wasting all our work and efforts and losing our money”

#2. Expanding Horizons: “Shanghai “Comes into the Picture””
While all this thought process was going on, Steven was commissioned several photographic works in Shanghai. Steven had lived in Beijing in the past but was less familiar with Shanghai. Shanghai was a nice discovery, a city where it would be really nice to settle…a fact that opened new possibilities for the project.

#3. Researching the Photographic Art Scene in Shanghai:”A Market Gap to Fill In”
The next nice surprise came when researching the photography art scene in Shanghai. The market here seemed to be less developed than in Beijing… and that was good news from a “competition” perspective. The project was still at an idea stage, but Steven and wife Mercedes moved to China to get one step closer to their dream.

#4. Polishing the Skills: “Acquiring More Experience in the Field”
Once settled in Shanghai, Steven landed a job as a Photography Director for a small Art Gallery. He started organizing photographic exhibitions. Those months of work at the gallery gave him the confidence that he could definitely make his project work…They also provided him with some good initial contacts, like internationally acclaimed artist Michael Wolf, whom they still represent in China.
So after a few months Steven and Mercedes decided it was time to make the dream come true.

#5. Setting Up a Contemporary Photography Gallery: “Finding the Right Location”
Shanghai was at that time the clear winner for the gallery location, but they still needed to find the right location. They considered both downtown and Moganshan area. Setting up in what is often described as the “Shanghai arts district” finally seemed like a good idea. It still took some time as some of the available space in Moganshan is quite run down, but they eventually came across their current location, in Moganshan Lu but outside the galleries cluster… so the Gallery finally happened.

It has been three years since then, and they have become one of the most reputed contemporary photography galleries in town… We will soon read more posts about what their success secrets have been and their business evolution during this time.

What is your experience researching the market before setting up your business in China?

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