This week, in our “Eye on London” series, Jing Daily will look at some of the brands, designers, hotels and restaurants in the London Luxury Quarter that are turning their attention to China’s sophisticated, seasoned traveler — the type who looks beyond the most visible brands and homes in on quality and craftsmanship over logos.
Earlier this week, Jing Daily took a look at what some London retailers and hoteliers are doing to cater to the growing number of wealthy Chinese tourists targeting the city as a luxury destination, from Chinese-language iPad apps to Mandarin-speaking sales staff. Today, we look at some of the London heritage brands currently attracting Chinese travelers, and what it is about their Britishness that continues to prove a strong draw.
On our recent trip to the London Luxury Quarter, Jing Daily visited a number of distinctly British brands that are leveraging their heritage and history to attract not only consumers from traditional markets like the US and continental Europe, but also the (relatively) new kids on the block — Russian, Middle Eastern, and increasingly, Chinese travelers. In recent years, China’s small but influential group of seasoned, sophisticated consumers have quickly developed an interest in niche brands, as their counterparts in second- and third-tier Chinese cities have become acquainted with the most visible labels and logos. This development has been hastened over the past 18 months amid a decline in conspicuous consumption in China that has pushed some wealthy consumers towards more low-key brands and private purchases.
In very broad terms, this emerging interest in brands less recognized in China has the potential to be very good for heritage brands in the UK. Visiting a number of British born-and-bred brands on our tour, all noted that they are seeing more Chinese travelers at their stores, many looking for unique, distinctly British items that would otherwise be all but impossible to find back home. While the majority of Chinese tourists in London still tend to gravitate towards major flagships and high-street retailers, others have become big spenders at retailers like William & Son and the Dunhill Home London.
Other stores, even those who have yet to make overtures to the mainland China market, have seen a steadily growing number of Chinese guests walk through their doors on luxury shopping hotspots like Mount Street. Available in Hong Kong but not yet in mainland China, watchmaker Bremont attracts enthusiasts interested in luxury brands off the beaten path.
As Bremont co-founder Giles English told us, “What we’re finding is that once [they've] bought the Rolex and the Omegas and the IWCs, our client’s looking for something a bit different.” English expects interest in UK brands to continue rising globally as more consumers look more at quality and history than volume and marketing. Said English, “I think you’ll see more British brands emerging because there is this [brand] history and you have some very skilled people” working in the industry. To help China’s watch-obsessed consumer become better acquainted with their brand, Bremont has an official Chinese-language website and is active on Sina Weibo.
Quality control, smaller production volume, history, and unmistakeable “Britishness” were themes we heard from several landmark shops on Mount Street, Bond Street, and Savile Row. As Managing Director of 231-year-old luxury brand Asprey, Paddy Byng, told us, “We’re actually proud we’re small. We believe it’s because we’re quite exclusive, quite limited in terms of our distribution, that’s what attracts people to us. We’re fortunate to have a lot of international customers. London is a very international city, and when people visit London they like to come visit Asprey, because we’re Britain’s leading luxury brand and we don’t have loads of stores worldwide.”
Byng added that Asprey has long been known as a destination for overseas tourists, with the retailer benefiting from the growing number of Chinese visitors to London. Said Byng, “We’re seeing more and more Chinese people coming in, which is great, very exciting. They often don’t really know the brand, although maybe they’ve heard of it.” With overseas stores in the US, Switzerland and Japan, Asprey now has China in its crosshairs. As Byng told Jing Daily, “We have plans to come to China. We don’t want to have 50 shops in China, but we have a lot of interest from China in terms of what we’re going to do there…and I suspect we will be there in the next couple of years.”
China expansion doesn’t mean Asprey plans to “go large” for the market, however. Said Byng, “We want to do it in a way that will be different. We want to go and create a strong impression rather than just be 2,000 square feet in a mall. We want to try to do something interesting from a retail standpoint.” Byng added that Asprey is looking at Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, but wants to keep its China expansion tight, rather than opening locations in many cities.