9 Business Tips from Shanghai Toy Club Owner

Cristina  Rueda runs two on-line businesses in Shanghai: Shanghai Toy Club and Bumps & Babes. Shanghai Toys Club is an imported children’s products online store. Bumps &Babes is a support initiative targeted to expat mothers and about-to-be new mothers who need advice and information on health and safety issues.

She was very generous in devoting some time to me and sharing some of her business tips. Lessons learnt on the ground.







Tip # 1. Be ready to do everything
You have to be ready to do anything, from a business plan to packing boxes. During a start-up’s initial stages you may need to do it all by yourself. I come from a corporate background, and it takes some time to get used to it.

Tip # 2. Look around. There may already be opportunities out there.
Sometimes you do not need to start a business from scratch. I bought Shanghai Toy Club from its owner who was leaving the country.
B&B has also existed since 2006 and it was going to die … so I took over the support group. I started writing a blog about the topics the speakers had talked about in our events, added links to interesting resources. I was pregnant, had my babes here, so decided to target women in the same situation (pregnant or with kids) and put up a website for them..Then I had all those vendors who wanted to sell products through us …
Shanghai Toy Club has more than doubled its size since then. And we get a very decent traffic flow to our B&B support website.

Tip # 3. Start slow …
We are currently targeting just the expat community. We feel this is a good tactic because it has allowed us to start slow,  figure out how things work, what the business potential is, what structure you need and what resources are required to grow our business.

Tip #4. And then think big.
In retail it is difficult to succeed with just an expat clientele … you need to access the Chinese consumer. Our Shanghai Toy Club business has more than doubled since I took it over, but we have still not started tapping into the Chinese market. It is a logical next step but we still needed to have the right product. I think we are much closer now.

Tip # 5. Listen to your consumers.
You may think a product is great but you need to listen to what your consumers say. More than once we’ve brought products to our portfolio feeling we had real winners and they’ve ended up being great disappointments. I remember a case in which we were importing really good Australian sun glasses for kids and later realised people were more than happy to buy fakes in the kids’ market.

Tip #6 . Be flexible and make tough decisions if required
When you realise something you are doing is not working you may need to make tough decisions. Our business initially had a rental activity. It was part of the business identity at that time and it was bringing in some money. It was difficult to give up but we realised we had to because it was a headache and it was not scalable.

Tip # 7. If you decide not to go alone… Choose the right partner.
Being an entrepreneur can be overwhelming at times and it often makes you feel lonely. It is nice to have a soundboard when you are making decisions and in particular, to share the responsibility. The right partner will help alleviate the weight of your decisions and compliment your ideas. But with that said, choose wisely your partners. It is better to be alone than to have a partner you don’t see eye to eye with, you feel you move at a different pace, or you feel that they are too expensive (both in terms of money and dynamics) for what they are bringing in to the business. When choosing a partner, make sure you do your due diligence before, identify exactly what/how/why they will add value to the business. An employee is a much better option than any partner. Entrepreneurs are a bit of control freaks and this can lead to a lot of tensions in partnerships. If you decide to have a partner, keep in mind than the dynamics of a partnership are very different from the dynamics of an employer/employee relationship and the dynamics of a 50-50 venture are very different from the dynamics of a majority/minority venture. The right partner will bring a lot of value to your business, the wrong partner can be very costly in terms of money, but most importantly, in terms of your time and energy.

Tip #8. You are the face of your company.
This may sound obvious to some people, but when you are an entrepreneur you can’t hide behind the wheels of a corporate structure. You are the face of the company and some people do not like that type of attention.

Tip # 9. Quality Control. It also applies to imported products.
We often hear horror stories about Chinese products and the need for quality control. We could say it applies to all suppliers. I remember we brought in an imported “Lead test kit” and decided to test it to see how it worked.  It came sealed and I did not initially check it. I sent it to a number of customers for feedback and it turned out lots of the kits were empty. The liquid had evaporated! … So I guess the learning is that bad things can happen with any supplier … not only Chinese!


Would you like to share your tips?

China: Five Trends to Monitor

(3rd post based on an interview to Vladimir Djurovic, LabBrand owner/founder- Labrand provides market and consumer research, brand strategy and creative services)

Vladimir Djurovic’s company, LabBrand, does plenty of research in the Chinese market, so I asked him what his views were on recent market trends in China that entrepreneurs would find interesting. These were his exact words:

“China: Five trends to monitor on four vital axis for brands:

-On Culture and Behaviour:
TREND # 1: Growing need for professional training solutions for service industries like catering, hospitality, etc…. How come this is still not yet there in China? It is time to open schools/academies and train your people!
– On Communication and Design:
TREND # 2: Branded applications for Mobile platforms (Ipod/ Android) – it is going to surge in the coming months and huge opportunities exist for brands and also for developer/content providers
– On Product and Services:
TREND # 3: One hot topic for the next decade in China : Medicines/ Pharma industry
– On Market and Consumers:
TREND # 4: Rise of the elderly Chinese spending – I was yesterday checking the opening of a high end retirement home in the suburb of Shanghai ( yes I know this is super glamorous!!) and I believe this is just the beginning of a lasting trend.
TREND # 5: Watch for more Online shopping especially in the luxury or high end segment.”

What interesting trends have you identified out there?

Marketing to Seniors in China

Yesterday I attended a business lunch hosted by AmCham Shanghai where the guest speaker, Tom Doctoroff, JWT´s North Asia Director and Greater China CEO, delivered a presentation about strategies for marketing to seniors in China. So, if the elderly population is your target, you will find bellow some themes/communication strategies that could help you reach them.

From the perpspective of the “possibilites of me”
1. “Olden is Golden”
Strengthen their roll in society by celebrating seniors´ wisdom

2. “Forever Young”
Shift communication from worry-based protection (currently overused) to life-enhacing liberation

3. “Reward”
Provide permission to bite into the forbidden fruit (they are savers! so feel guilty about spending)
3.a. “Justify the treat”
3.b. “Timeless Value, Timeless Joy” (Old fashioned values as a way to provide future happiness)

From the perspective of “reinforcement of we” (important in a culture like China where individualism is not encouraged)
4. “Tighten Family Bonding”
Reinforce the ties that bind the clan, basic building block of society
4.a.”Lubricate inter-generational communication”
4.b.”Let Grandparents Raise the Cherished Dumplings”

5. “New Friends, New Communities”
Where the brand establishes new platforms for social bonding

6.”Forge China Pride”
Empower the mature to continue building a glorious nation.

If you are interested in reading further about this topic, you can also read Doctoroff’s post titled “China’s Senior Market: Grey Today, Golden Tomorrow” where he explains in further detail all these themes.