China Consumer

Toying with mothers

One-child policy promotes one-stop shop for first-time parents

Shopping for Christmas gifts for new mothers and children can be a daunting experience anywhere.

Double it in China, where equivalents to Toys R Us or Mothercare are thin on the ground. Without some forward planning, one could end up running between a Wumart or a Carrefour, then over to a local retail chain, and even a quick check on the internet and a handful of catalogues, before finally finding an acceptable gift.

That is not to say that consumers are deprived of choice. There are over 50,000 suppliers of mother and baby products in China, providing more than 24,000 different items, according to Global Entrepreneur. For children’s clothes alone, there are as many as 17,000 manufacturers in the market. In comparison, an electronic megastore would struggle to stock more than 5,000 product types. The problem: few ‘mum-and-baby’ retailers offer all this choice under one roof.

But shoppers in Nanjing are in luck. This week, Jiangsu Baby King Industrial opened its first ‘kidswant’ flagship mall, bringing a one-stop solution to expectant (and new) mothers, as well as children from newborn to 12 years-old.

Baby King hopes to attract customers with various value-added services in its ‘lifestyle’ mall and through its home delivery service. So, apart from a wide selection of items to buy in the mall, parents can take their kids to watch a children’s play, get advice on mothering, go to an open-air playground and even experience some of the products sold in the store.

In the Nanjing area, the company has also hired 30 female sales managers with mothering experience to help nurture customer relationships.

Baby King believes this reassuring service will win over new mothers. Since the majority of women in China will only have one baby – a policy requirement, of course – most have no experience of childbirth.

And first time nerves make for customers more than ready to pay up for a range of ‘essential’ baby items.

Baby King was founded by Wang Jianguo, the former head of leading electronic retailer Five Star Appliance, which became a Best Buy subsidiary earlier this year. He was attracted by the fact that none of the key players in the crowded (yet fragmented) mother-and-child-market has even a 10% share. China is also said to be undergoing a baby spending boom (more parents with the cash to spend on nappies, wipes, strollers and milk formula). Research conducted by Baby King’s parent company Five Star Holding shows that the industry is expected to grow around 30% a year from now until 2028.

For Baby King, that is a green light to expand its store network into cities like Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou and Shanghai next year. It hopes to open 50 lifestyle malls in five years, reaching annual sales of Rmb5 billion.

Baby King isn’t the only company with such ambitions. It will compete with other players like Lijia Baobei and Red Baby. But it hopes its ‘lifestyle’ approach to the business will eventually give it additional clout with customers. In turn, that should help it get better deals with upstream suppliers and distributors. “We are now mending the road (the supply channel), so that in time to come it will be available for all, be it a Porsche or a tractor,” says Xu Weihong, the president of Baby King.


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