Men, especially ambitious men, want to be their own boss. That is why the vicissitudes of the startups are often as palpable as sakura’s blossom and fall; numerous, ephemeral, sometimes even tragically beautiful. A recent chit-chat with an “entrepreneur wanna be” brought out this feeling again.

His background is like this:

Chinese American born and raised in California, graduate from prestigious university, worked for world renowned consulting firm for a quite long time. Inspired by ShoeDazzle’s model in US, he would like to dive into women shoe business in mainland China, but with a bizarre twist, he decided to take out that “e-commerce” part, regress to brick and mortar only.

Of course his biggest trump card is he is currently negotiating the partnership with a famous Chinese actress who would lend out her face, fame, social fans, but definitely not her own money.

So I summarized “You are just going to be a traditional shoe brand seller, starting from scratch in China”. He nodded his head though emphasized his digital marketing tactics.

My heart started to yawn as this startup venture sounded too cliché to get me high. Shanghai is a city flooded with offline shoe shops. 

Needless to say, the women shoe market in China is overly saturated, with fierce competition going on, especially for mid-end women consumers who are exactly his branding and pricing (RMB500-1000) target. As a woman like myself who always wants to look stylish, I usually look for beautiful shoes on a frequent basis, very fastidious yet seeking good pricing value, no brand loyalty except for those premium or luxury brands. I have to say sometimes I feel I would be drowned in the ocean of shoe selection among those shoe stores. 

The location selected for his offline stores is going to be in those glamorous shopping malls in the most bustling streets in Shanghai and Beijing. This means bloody hell investment beforehand and more likely no substantial ROI later on.

The founder of ShoeDazzle, Brian Lee was actually inspired by his wife’s offline shoe shopping habit and hoped to translate that pampered experience into the online environment; back then almost no e-commerce company was actually doing this in US. It was the most glittering element of this startup venture.

Nevertheless the man I talked here determined to take out that “glittering element” for his similar venture in China simply because vertical shoe B2C online business is totally not working in this country. But without a “glittering element” in any startup venture, your chance for survival would be greatly diminished.

Many local business men already realized they must abandon independent B2C, but rely on Taobao, Tmall, JD for their e-commerce and branding purposes.

Somehow I recall last year, a store called “CDD” newly opened on Tmall, became one of the top 10 shoe sellers within 3 months. Secrets:

1)       They sell men shoes, less intense competition than women shoes

2)       First line of product launch was great design and high quality men mesh shoes; again a market niche less competitive than leather shoes

3)       To win sales volume in the beginning, they offered almost suicidal pricing strategy RMB49, plus free delivery. Results? It was able to sold 4000 pairs within 3 days in April.

4)     When the online visits for store are steady, they gradually increased the price tag for the shoes. Of course, sale volume was dramatically plunging, which was expected. But the store name is already on the top search results on Tmall, so eventually it attracted new customers and the sales started to pick up anew, albeit slowly

5)      Once the store's reputation is solid, they are now launching other types of men shoes with price range between RMB100-1000.  

So looking back, this online shoe store really tried hard to differentiate with other players and implemented well-planned strategies in advance.

Finally when I said goodbye to this man, I wished him best luck. Upon turning my back to him, I knew my heart was not that optimistic for his adventure. Selling shoes in China is not a rocket science but bitterly tough, even requires rogue kind of nastiness; good education and golden career experience sometimes would not be that helpful. However this is his decision, fate and life journey, with which I shall not interfere.

By Cécilia Wu
English & Chinese Editorial Manager