Retailers that want to build a presence in China at a lightning-fast pace should get pointers from Catherine Kang.
Ms. Kang is managing director for Claire's in China, setting up operations for the world's largest fashion jewelry and accessories chain. It's a market that Illinois-based Claire's has been slow to enter, waiting for Chinese women to develop a more sophisticated outlook on personal style.
"It's the right time for the Chinese consumers to really finish their outfit with accessories and fashion jewelry. That's a big trend that's coming and consumer needs are quite strong," she said. "So last year Claire's -- after two years of in-depth market surveys (and testing) -- decided to enter China."
Ms. Kang, a Beijing native, joined Claire's in 2012 after six years at Sephora. She introduced the French cosmetics chain to the market, opening 130 stores in 37 cities. Previously, at Procter & Gamble, she helped launch SK-II in China.
Detailed market knowledge is an important part of Ms. Kang's strategy. In the U.S., fashion jewelry and accessories penetration is perhaps 90%. But less than half of Chinese women have pierced ears or accessorize as part of their outfit, and those who do tend to choose conservative pieces. And Chinese girls have few occasions to dress up outside major family celebrations.
So Claire's is targeting China's older teens and young office workers, focusing on consumer education. Ms. Kang and her agency partners including DraftFCB (creative and strategy) and UM (media) work with fashion magazines to feature cover models wearing all Claire's products, so sales associates can readily show customers how different pieces can create a certain look.
Other marketing initiatives include sponsoring all the accessories on the upcoming TV show "China Girl," a Chinese version of "Gossip Girl." Claire's is also launching jewelry-themed mobile games and offers free beauty classes for friends who come in together for ear piercing.
Ms. Kang will open 25 stores in China by the end of 2013, marking one year of retail presence in the market, and plans to open at least 30 a year. Claire's expects China to become one of its largest markets over the next five to 10 years.
"Catherine's rich experience in this market has enabled us to gain traction with the consumer and the industry very quickly," said Andrea Guthrie, Claire's senior VP-strategic new businesses. "Her understanding of how to build brands that resonate with the Chinese consumer has been invaluable to our launch and I believe her strong culture of exceptional customer service will be a critical success factor for our stores in China."