Club China members share their business experiences with you! How did they get their start? What were their key learnings in setting up their business in China?
Member Story: Thijs Ottenhoff of Happy Marketing B.V.
“Avoid misunderstandings, schedule carefully”
Thijs Ottenhoff, founder of Happy Marketing B.V., has over 17 years of experience in dealing with Chinese manufacturers. His company has the Disney license Disney-branded sunglasses, hairbrushes, toiletbags and other accessories. Thijs often visits the Chinese production companies he buys from and is the first in a series of western entrepreneurs to share his Inside Story with Club China members.
How did you start your business in China?
"I started in 1992 in Taiwan and Hong Kong. These regions were only just saying goodbye to mass production so the attention quickly shifted to China. My first steps were in the vicinity of Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, actually still fairly close to Hong Kong. Although I must say that my first encounter with a Chinese factory was quite a shock. The production plant was located in very dirty surroundings, the plant itself was even dirtier, if possible. From other entrepreneurs, who had been doing business in China for a longer, I've heard I was still only faced with the most civilized parts of the Republic.”
How did you learn to manage relationships with agents and producers?
"I still learn every day, sometimes the hard way. I’m a born optimist though, despite my experience of 17 years working with manufacturers in China. I’m very aware that certain intentions to create a product are not always fully understood by manufacturers. Misunderstandings are born easily. I have to constantly push myself to extreme rigor in the formulation of products, production, product testing and packaging. The pressure on suppliers must be high, they must literally feel that they are being watched. That they have to work according to protocol. "
What are your key learnings in terms of doing business in China?
"That, if you are doing business in China, you cannot relax for a moment. And that you cannot have too ambitious a target where deadlines are concerned. Things always take longer than you imagine. I would recommend anyone to be extra careful when it comes to scheduling. The often-mentioned prejudice that Chinese do not like saying ‘no’ often proves correct. As a businessperson, you tend to think that they will do exactly what you want. In practice they may very well still follow their own agenda. "
What is the biggest misconception about doing business in China?
"I often hear the comment that you can easily be deceived by Chinese business partners. I don’t believe this is a realistic observation. Chinese aren’t out to cheat you. They will always try to get the best deal within certain parameters and who can blame them? So it’s good to know the parameters, to make sure you know what you want and to have realistic objectives. Then it’s wise to stay on top of things and check regularly whether everything is going according to the agreed schedules."
Any advice on how to treat a Chinese business partner?
"Have patience, be kind and show sincere interest in your business partner. That’s the way to go. Impatience and hysteria are seen as absolute weaknesses and are not recommended. "
What is your best anecdote from your business experience China?
"The craziest thing happened in 1994. I’d found a very suitable plant for producing Mickey Mouse icons that are attached to certain accessories. The icons this factory produced were beautifully shaped and very well finished. Each figure was hand painted. When I announced that I wanted to visit the factory, one of the managers came up with a special gesture to thank me for my effort to travel all the way to the factory. She really wanted to show some initiative and thus to make a good impression. When I was led through the factory, she showed at the department where the Mickey Mouse icons were painted. With great pride she showed me that she had found seven ways to paint Mickey with a totally different face. Not one of the icons had any resemblance to the original. Walt Disney would probably have been horrified with this attempt to please me. It has taken me an hour to explain that I really just wanted to use the original Mickey Mouse look. And she really did not understand. Never have I found so much love for Mickey ever since!"
Are you already operating a successful business in or with China and would you like to be featured with your Inside Story and share your years of experience with the Club China community? Get in touch...
Would you like to comment on this article? Please log in on the right hand side of this page or: