Hu Bing is China’s first male supermodel and has spent the last 20 years immersed in China’s luxury sector. During the recent Chinese New Year, he shared his insights while traveling with a group of Affinity China“>Affinity China members to Las Vegas, Orange County and Beverly Hills.
Q: You have been a favorite amongst brands for campaigns, shows and event appearances in China over the last 20 years. Let’s talk about how your experience with the luxury brands started.
It was 1989 when I first purchased a luxury product – a Louis Vuitton wallet. I was still in the national canoeing team back then and we had many ID cards to carry when we compete in many countries. The Louis Vuitton wallet’s design meet all my needs and it’s cool looking. So I bought without any hesitation.
Q: How has your luxury shopping style evolved over the years?
20 years ago when I first became a model, I shopped like crazy whenever I was in NYC and saw the sales at department stores. My top priority back then was as long as it had a big label, Calvin Klein, Valentino, Gucci, and if they were ever on discount, I would just take them, even if their sizing was off.
Now I don’t go for the brand-only style anymore of course. I know what style works for me and just choose the things that would look good on me, even if they are not from famous brands. I choose what makes me comfortable. This is also what is happening amongst the more sophisticated Chinese consumers. They are no longer blindly buying brands for logos. They are developing their own sense of style and those brands that help them realize this will win their loyalty in the long run.
Same goes when I choose brand events to endorse. There are brands who know what they are doing when they work with celebrities, and some don’t. I would rather choose to work with the brands that make me comfortable, even if they don’t pay me as much. There’s something more important than money. It’s the experience and reputation.
Q: You say traveling is your favorite pastime. Why?
I love traveling. It helps me de-stress. It has what I am looking for that can’t be found from work, such as beautiful sceneries, magnificent architectures, new friends. Travels are full of new experiences that can completely refresh my understanding of the world. That’s something I love the most about life.
Q: What are your favorite cities to travel to?
New York City, Barcelona, and Paris. There’re many reasons to love these 3 cities. New York has a unique attitude – direct, powerful, and very “in-your-face”. It reminds you of a sense of urgency that I think everyone needs to have at work. It excites you. I like Barcelona because it has a very positive energy. Everyone’s smiling all the time in that city. They play music everywhere and everybody seems to be having a joyful time doing their things. Paris is a romantic destination. I especially like going to some hidden gems in the city, walk along Seine and have drinks at the riverside. It calms me.
Q: How do you describe your travel style?
I like to travel with people I know who have local expertise. The insider experience you get from traveling with someone who understands the culture is priceless. In my opinion, exploring a new place on your own is best done when you have a lot of time – something I don’t have very much of with my busy schedule so when I travel, it’s either to places that are familiar to me or new places with someone who understands the local culture.
Q: Describe your experience traveling during Chinese New Year with Affinity China members. What did you think of Las Vegas, Orange County and Beverly Hills?
During this trip I gained a new understanding of the US and made many new friends within the group. I’ve been to Las Vegas many times before, but this time while traveling with a group of fans who quickly became friends, I feel like the city is even more exciting than before. The reason you love a city strongly is always because of the people you spend time with in that city.
It was my first visit to Orange County. The scenery there is so breathtaking. While some of our friends were inquiring about the real estate in Orange County, I was enjoying the beach and the sun. If you ask me, what I like is not any potential investment opportunity, but the view from my room at the Montage Laguna Beach, the fireplace in my room and a dish I remember having at their restaurant.
My experience with Beverly Hills this time is better than the years I spent studying in LA. I didn’t have many friends back then so I didn’t fall in love with the city the way I have recently. This time it was different. I’m with local Chinese friends and those with insider access here. It made the experience much more exciting.
Q: As a frequent global traveler, what do you think of the luxury travel sector and how they cater to Chinese travelers?
In general, I see great progress but I think there are still things that need a lot of improvement. A lot of hotels and luxury travel companies are realizing the importance of the affluent Chinese. This is great considering just a few years ago they did not recognize this segment. But I think often times they forget that customer service that is relatable to the Chinese is the most important factor when a Chinese guest evaluates a hotel or a tour. Customer service is more than just hanging red lanterns when it’s Chinese New Year.
When you’re in the luxury sector, relying on advertising only to show how amazing your products are or how perfect your hotel’s amenities are is not sufficient to encourage repeat Chinese business. It’s the personal experience, word-of-mouth, peer reviews that bring you more customers. How do you create word-of-mouth amongst the Chinese? You do so by focusing on service that is relatable to them. The luxury sector – hotels, brands, or travel companies – really need to think deeper about what the Chinese customers truly want. It is a service that treats them like they’re your family. And I don’t them they understand what the Chinese traveler truly wants yet. I think this will improve over the next few years as the luxury sector better understands Chinese culture.
Q: Aside from the travel industry, how do you think the luxury brands are doing in the China market?
One thing I distinctively notice is that there are too many brands targeting the same small pool of customers at the very same time. They are too busy elbowing their way into the China market that they forget there are different segments of Chinese consumers to influence. Every brand seems to be so eager to get the top high rollers in China in their pocket. However, the high rollers in China now have so many options and they start to look at those really exclusive, hard-to-find-in-China products when they travel overseas. True that many brands are bringing their exclusive made-to-measure haute couture programs to China, but they are serving for black-tie events only, which don’t happen a lot even for the most affluent people in China. Celebrities, maybe. But it’s not a secret that celebrities don’t pay for their dresses. So there lies a dilemma for the brands that they are either delivering a wrong product or they are targeting too small of a market.
Q: What would you suggest the brands do to have a better China strategy?
I think there’s a unique market in China – white collar working professionals, mid-level managers, aware of the brands but with relatively limited disposable income compared to those top high net worth individuals – is being neglected. Brands are pricing their items too high for that market. Granted that the tariff issues make lowering the prices difficult. But if they look at a longer term, lowering the prices just a little bit will bring them a much much larger new market. Those young professionals are so eager to buy luxury products and if the brands will open their doors just a bit wider, they will have 10 times more customers in their stores. Not every brand will survive serving only the top 1% of the rich Chinese.
And also, for that top 1%, high prices and logos are not the reasons why they are excited about the brands anymore. If you want them to still regard your brand as a front-runner, you have to spend heart and soul into promoting your brand stories and cultural heritage of your brands to make them realize your brand is truly special and unique and that wearing your brand represents not only their affluence and success, but also makes them feel they are cultured and genuinely sophisticated.
Besides that, improve your product quality. On this trip with Affinity China, I heard so many people complain about the quality of well established designer brands. One woman was complaining to me that her blazer can not be sent to dry clean, otherwise it will destroy the embroidery on the sleeves. That’s a huge issue to them. No matter how wealthy your customers might be, they will still care about the practicality and quality of your products. Other women on the trip mentioned that some brands stopped creating nice designs years ago. That’s something brands need take note about too. No matter how much effort they put into branding and marketing, the core value of the brand lies in the quality of your products at the end of the day. If that goes bad, it will ruin all your 10 years of branding efforts in 1 second. The Chinese consumers are very savvy and they are paying attention.
Speaking of branding, I suggest brands do more research before they invite many Chinese celebrities over to that fashion shows to create PR in China. They need to have a deeper understanding of the celebrity to decide whether the PR associated with the invited celebrity is fitting for their brand image or not. I see them blindly inviting many Chinese celebrities over to their shows at fashion weeks in recent years and the buzz they created were not necessarily what they were looking for. They need to more cautious on that and do more homework beforehand.
Article from Affinity China