"The interest of Chinese retailers and fashion brands has extremely increased"
Hans Boodt Mannequins on joining C-star and entering the Chinese market
In April 2015, Hans Boodt Mannequins announced to enter the Chinese market and to participate at C-star. With its mannequins featuring exceptionally high quality and remarkable designs, Hans Boodt Mannequins is - without a doubt - one of the leading trendsetters in the global mannequin business. The company will operate with the brand name 翰斯模特Hans Boodt Mannequins.
Thus, the C-star team has met with Mr. Peter Ouwerkerk, the China Operations Manager of 翰斯模特Hans Boodt Mannequins, to ask him about the opportunities and challenges of the Chinese mannequin market.
Peter, what was the pivotal reason for 翰斯模特Hans Boodt Mannequins to enter the Chinese market and exhibit at C-Star?
Ouwerkerk: Hans Boodt Mannequins is a global brand with showrooms all over the world and we sell directly to 100+ countries. However, we were missing a representation in Asia and specifically in China. We have always kept our eyes open to the opportunities China is offering but we are also very aware of the risks and difficulties of this market. However, there are a few reasons why we now think the time is right to enter this market. Firstly we have seen an increase in interest from Chinese retailers and fashion brands, and secondly our multinational customers increasingly demand that we supply them directly in China.
Eventually, the fact that Messe Düsseldorf is organizing the C-Star fair served as a big incentive to join C-star. In C-Star we see the perfect partner to start off our China adventure. The organizing company Messe Düsseldorf has a highly valued reputation and we are sure that the C-Star show will live up to this reputation. Just like C-Star, we are not afraid to take up a challenge and we look forward to flourishing together in this exciting and dynamic market.
What will be on display at the 翰斯模特Hans Boodt Mannequins C-Star booth?
Ouwerkerk: At C-Star we will only show our top of the line mannequins. Each mannequin will either be distinctive in finishing, in combination of materials or in morphology. We want to inspire the Chinese retailers and we want to show them the added value of working with a company like Hans Boodt Mannequins.
Yet, our added value is not only translated in outlook, but also in intangible properties like easiness of assembling, easiness of dressing, flexibility in finish combinations, level of detail being taken care of and, very important for global brands like us, the high standard of working conditions at our dedicated supplier. All aforementioned characteristics will be covered by the mannequins on display at our booth.
How significant is the importance of the Chinese retail and mannequin market?
Ouwerkerk: China's middle class is growing and demanding higher quality products. The perception of higher quality is in part determined by the outlook of the retail shop and the way goods are presented. Clothing displayed on poorly assembled, slanted standing, broken and boring mannequins will quickly be classified as of being of inferior quality.
With the rising demands of the Chinese middle class, we expect that retailers will be challenged to invest in higher quality mannequins and we are anticipating to this trend. However, this will be a slow progress but we have already been receiving requests from leading Chinese retailers to help them out with their visual merchandising challenges and upgrading their mannequins and windows.
ut still, the biggest difficulty in the Chinese market is the price perception. The local retailers have been buying from factories directly and we cannot and don't want to compete with these factories based on price. In China we will focus on high quality mannequins where our added value is more tangible and of which we know the local suppliers are not able to supply. We are doing this not out of disdain or content, but we are talking here about two different professions: one is supplying and the other one is designing. We are mannequin designers.
Our core profession is to design, develop and create mannequins, and we set very high standards for our factory and keep on challenging them. Our quality standards are evolving continuously and are based on years of hands on experience from our founder, designers, sculptors, visual merchandisers and present-day market trends. This process is a full time job and requires a huge amount of continuous investments and effort from a global team of employees.
We have not yet seen a local supplier that gets close to having the same skills. We highly respect everybody that is active in this industry and we are not claiming to be superior. But we are different and that is what will be our focus in China.
You mentioned that China can be a very exciting but also a very challenging market. Is that a hint at the often underestimated problem of intellectual property right (IPR) infringements on the Chinese market?
Ouwerkerk: IPRs are always a hot topic in China. In the Chinese market there is an abundance of copied Hans Boodt items and it hurts to see that a product that we have put so much effort, time and money in developing, is being copied and sold for bargaining prices. But in regard to mannequins it is very difficult to protect intellectual property.
Juridical measurements are consuming too much time and money, so we rather focus on developing our business. We are in the business of developing and designing mannequins, which is a profession on itself and many companies are not able to do that. So these companies must resort to copying brands like Hans Boodt. We do think that this is not a sustainable business model as a company that copies will likely also copy its customers and their designs. So it's highly unlikely that such companies will ever have long term customers.
Other mannequin brands also do not prefer to work with these kind of suppliers for two reasons. First, to protect their own intellectual property and second, because it taints their name: being associated with a copycat factory is not very good for the status of a brand.
Anyhow, we have found an effective way to fight these kind of practices; and that is being on top of our game, every day. We have a team of people that is fulltime involved in developing new mannequins and on average we create 40 new mannequins every year.
In regard to the trademark issues China currently has, we highly appreciate the efforts being made by C-Star for emphasizing on fair competition. The Fair Competition Initiative is a tool that we think will both reach the retailers as well as the suppliers. We think it is very important to create awareness of this issue at all parties involved, especially in creative industries like the mannequin industry. The mannequin industry is nothing without its designers and innovators in the form of mannequin brands, but also the suppliers play an important role. Only by collaboration and respect can we have synergies, and will we all be able to keep on providing exciting and new mannequins to the retailers.