Made in China can also be a mark of Quality

So often we’ve heard phrases like ‘the world’s factory’ or ‘cheap Chinese’ that they have become deeply fixed in our minds. So much so that the words ‘Chinese quality’ still stirs up overwhelmingly negative images. But should this always be so? The country is simply climbing the value curve just as all other successful economies have done previously. In recent times the newcomers have included Japan and Korea – and now both these countries are readily associated with high quality consumer products.


Perhaps it’s useful to step outside our tyre bubble for a few moments and look deeper into a recent success story that maybe points to a future where many Chinese tyre companies could look to prosper.


In just a few years, China’s luxury goods market is set to be the second largest in the world (after Japan). However, most discerning Chinese consumers have until now shown a preference for ubiquitous global western brands such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Gucci with their massive marketing machines and global reach. But leading the counter-charge is Shanghai Tang – now increasingly regarded as China’s first global luxury lifestyle brand. Established in Hong Kong by David Tang in 1994 as a bespoke tailoring outfit, Shanghai Tang operates in the fashionable districts across Asia, the Middle East and now Europe. The positioning of the brand involves upscale fashion creations with a ‘Chinese touch’.


It’s a careful mix of ‘Old China’ silk fabrics and naturally coloured tissues, but with a youthful brand image emphasizing design innovation to attract the upwardly mobile of Shanghai, Beijing and the dozens of upwardly mobile Chinese mega cities. But the real turning point appears to have been the appointment of a renowned French fashion industry leader as CEO of Shanghai Tang in 2001. Monsieur Chermont has steadily guided the company away from merely selling fashion wear, and instead has helped weave the Shanghai Tang label into a veritable lifestyle statement.


Supported by a capable and enthusiastic Chinese workforce (only the CEO is French), Shanghai Tang has adopted and applied western marketing tactics which have also, most interestingly, helped propel massive brand growth and recognition in the domestic Chinese marketplace. At the forefront is the widespread use of social media and communication tools which, as you are surely aware, are already well established by Western brand icons. Future success is expected with the company predicted to double in size in the next five years. As one analyst commented: “Shanghai Tang is the best combination of Chinese culture paired with current dynamic market change and shopper needs. This model could be learned and re-applied by other Chinese brands, but success is not that easy to copy”.


And there’s the rub when we come back to our own supposedly less glamourous world of tyres. When we consider that more than half of the 300 or so tyre brands that are now out there in our European market originate from China, how many of these carry even a fragment of brand equity or loyalty? How many extoll the virtues of their technical excellence? How many stand out from the crowd as future world beaters?


We’re already starting to see the effects of production overcapacity in the market and the consolidation in manufacturing that will likely follow. This may have the beneficial side effect of establishing stronger market leaders in China who can enthusiastically take on the global brand challenge. For when it comes to brand success, it’s not only about making an exemplary product but, more importantly, communicating the benefits to a skeptical or ignorant public. Many consumers have already been indirectly influenced to avoid ‘cheap Chinese’ – even though several of these challenger Asian tyre brands are now proving themselves to be technically superior when compared with legacy manufacturers from the West.


For those tyre brands that we are proud to selectively represent, Zenises will use every communication channel available to support the incredible product development advances that we witness with each year passing. For sure there will remain some lesser quality Chinese tyres on sale, just as there will also be low quality American, African and European tyres readily available in the market (we shouldn’t forget where the majority of the old tyre facilities are based).


But let’s also celebrate those manufacturers who are working hard every day to be the new Shanghai Tang of the tyre business. And with a clear brand message and long-term marketing focus, those brands can be challengers to the ‘status quo’ of the tyre business.