Southeast Missouri State University alumna Jue “Violet” Zhang is passionate about cross-border trade and says the time is ripe for e-commerce to revolutionize China.
Violet has had her hand on the pulse of the import-export business for about 15 years while working in international markets and the financial service industry, including four years with Alibaba, one of the world’s largest online commerce companies and one of the world’s most valuable tech companies. A year ago, Violet ventured out as an entrepreneur launching Beijing ZhongRuiQiMing (“Rising Star”) Investment Management Ltd. and started her own consultancy business in Hangzhou, assisting international businesses with e-commerce strategy and “business match-making.”
With a stellar resume that includes vast experience with a network of 27 foreign consulates, nearly two dozen foreign industry associations, overseas investment institutions and two years with CITS American Express Travel Service, LTD servicing Motorola as a client, also in Beijing, Violet says she has a keen business sense for new opportunities and has an excellent strategic vision for new industry trends. Every service they provide takes advantages of their vast experience, in-depth market knowledge and relationships throughout China.
And that trend, she says, has spurred her to represent Chinese companies and assist them in exploring foreign markets. Violet spent a couple of months last winter in the United States connecting with buyers and sellers interested in selling their products in international markets. During that time she visited Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Boston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. She also explored U.S. advertising agencies and marketing firms to assist in her start-up.
Now back in her home country, Violet recently moved Rising Star into new office space in Hangzhou in the northwestern Zhejiang province. The business is headquartered in the Fuyi Granary – a former storage facility for rice more than 1,000 years ago during the Qing Dynasty and now converted to a world cultural heritage center. On the banks of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, the company is situated in a traditional Chinese-style building in a beautiful, natural setting with ancient canal boats nearby, juxtaposed against a backdrop of towering, modern buildings.
Violet says her company is working to build bridges with overseas suppliers and Chinese online and offline channels, introducing foreign brands of baby/mother, personal care, food and health products, furniture and jewelry. Her company works with foreign clients to identify their key needs for entering the Chinese e-commerce market and assists them in understanding China’s unique characteristics, opportunities and challenges. It helps clients better understand localization, product positioning, identifying and evaluating distributors and major online market places in China. Her company also assists with general marketing strategies that are effective when looking to enter China and improve market share for products and services already in China.
Violet’s appetite for e-commerce radiates in her every word, and her energy for her work is unflappable.
“I already have 15 years working in China, so I’m ready to do something for myself, she says, explaining her yearning to explore the world of entrepreneurship.
She credits Alibaba for the network of business associates she has built and for much of the knowledge she gained in cross-border trade. During her time with Alibaba, she presented many seminars organized by foreign embassies and foreign trade development offices that invited their brand delegations to learn more about the Chinese market.
“Now, when I walk into the Chinese Embassy, they know I am an expert in this area,” she said.
Chinese Business Marketplace is Exploding
She says China has begun a transformative process and that Chinese markets for U.S. products are enormous and growing. Agricultural products are in extraordinary demand as are U.S. consumer-oriented exports like snack foods, milk products, nuts, fresh fruit, wine and beer. American baby and health products also are very popular in the Chinese marketplace, she says.
Violet has a U.S. business partner who works as a consultant to her company and whose expertise is in U.S. agricultural products. He assists in connecting her with some of these American markets. Recently, Violet assisted a delegation from the U.S. National Peanut Board and the largest grower of ginseng in Wisconsin as they visited Alibaba, Tmall, Tmall Global, Kaola, JD, YHD and other major market places in China, introducing them to several large Chinese buyers. She also has helped financial investment institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Temasek to get a better understanding of current Chinese e-commerce and new government policies.
Challenges, such as unclear import requirements, shelf life and labelling issues, import duties and food safety concerns have spawned China’s own e-commerce champions, Alibaba’s Tmall/Taobao. Their sales exceed those of Amazon and Ebay combined, she said, adding Alibaba Group reaped $14.3 billion in sales during Singles’ Day in 2015, a 60 percent increase from 2014’s tally, with 69 percent made on mobile devices. Mobile commerce in China is also on the rise she said, adding that most food products are available to purchase with the ease of a QR code. In addition, Chinese consumers can now make purchases from WeChat or WeiXin, messaging and social networking apps.
E-commerce is providing foreign suppliers with new channels to reach millions of Chinese consumers at ease all while allaying their customers’ fears concerning food safety, product availability, convenience and pricing, Violet says. Chinese consumers, she says, are confident in American brands.
“The Chinese (business) market is booming,” Violet said.
The market to reach Chinese consumers is expansive. Violet says 20- to 32-year-old young, Chinese consumers are looking for more American brands and products, and 32- to 45-year olds “want better, high-quality living. They want to enjoy life more,” she said.
Violet is confident her company can meet these demands, and she is eager to share her enthusiasm for the international cross-border market. She is also quick to credit Southeast and its MBA program for preparing her well for her career.
Violet at Southeast
During her recent work in the United States, she spent a couple of weeks in Cape Girardeau, talking business with her former professors in Southeast’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.
“I found my place there,” she said of her years at Southeast. “I really enjoyed studying and getting back into campus life.”
Violet, who earned her MBA from Southeast in 2008, said, she developed a closeness with several faculty mentors. She recalls hours of academic discussions with Dr. Willie Redmond, professor of economics, and appreciates the financial lessons learned from Dr. Ben Dow, professor of finance. She says she really enjoyed and particularly cherishes the regular Sunday evening dinners Jill Young, instructor of management information systems, hosted for her students.
“It was a great chance to know and think from a woman’s perspective,” she said.
“That’s the charming thing about being an MBA student at SEMO,” she said, adding the evenings taught her much about American culture. “I cherish the opportunity to have come there, not only to study, but to find what is important in life.”
Violet also thanked Dr. Stan Stough, professor emeritus of management and marketing, for hosting her family in his home during her recent visit to Cape Girardeau, saying she enjoyed sharing her “after-MBA experience” with him.
Recently, Violet has parlayed her success with cross-border trade into creation of her own brands of Chinese-style products to market online to the United States. The brand names represent her husband, daughter and herself and consist of Chinese-style creative handicrafts that she and her team make. These include jewelry, Chinese green and red tea, fruit wine, tea sets, cups, vases and unique personal gifts.
“E-commence gives me a tool that I can connect with any country globally, keep in touch with all of my professors and classmates, deliver unique products with good quality, and share the different culture to learn and enjoy exploring the world better,” Violet said. “And having an MBA is a good start on this amazing journey.”