China gets the Santa bug
Updated: 2011-12-23 08:06
By Xu Junqian (China Daily)
Santa Claus figures on sale at the Yiwu International Trade City in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. Christmas-related sales have been expanding for several years in China. [Qilai Shen / Bloomberg]
Yuletide is rapidly gaining ground as a cause for mid-winter celebrations
SHANGHAI - Like it or not, Santa Claus is putting on a Chinese-style costume, reindeers are flying alongside rabbits and dragons from the Chinese zodiac, and red packets are replacing bells and candles, hanging on trees in shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and homes.
Christmas is coming to town, and Shanghai consumers, never ones to pass up the chance of a good time, are celebrating with Chinese characteristics and producers of Christmas decorations are only too pleased to oblige.
"They have come up with all kinds of ideas: Chinese red knots on the bells and the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac," said Zhang Yiqian, the owner of Zhibo Christmas Arts and Crafts Factory in Yiwu in Zhejiang province, which is reputed as a global powerhouse of niche items.
While exports still account for some 80 percent of the items produced in Zhang's factory, the 27-year-old Yiwu native said he has seen a strong rise in domestic demand, which "should not be overlooked".
"Orders have doubled this year," said Zhang, who took over the business from his parents five years ago.
"Chinese buyers are more generous with budgets, unusually in terms of the festive tradition, and picky in style, while foreigners are more price-oriented."
According to Chen Jinlin, secretary-general of the Yiwu Christmas Products Industry Association, Christmas sales have been on the rise for a number of years. The increase has come since the 80's and 90's generations started to dominate the market.
"For many (Chinese), it's a festival for everyone to have fun and to feast. Few care about the relevance," said Chen.
Members of Chen's association produce nearly 80 percent of the festive items on sale in China.
Although the association's figures for Christmas sales revenue have yet to be published, Chen estimated that domestic sales are likely to account for 20 percent of the total, signaling growth of 50 percent year-on-year.
"Chinese bosses are usually more demanding when it comes to Christmas decorations," said a hotel marketing manager in Shanghai, who has been in the industry for more than 10 years and has worked in both Chinese and overseas companies.
"Christmas trappings are more a marketing tool for hotels, as well as restaurants, and retailers, so it's important to have something new and eye-catching every year," she said, adding that the budget for Christmas decorations at her work place has increased by 20 to 30 percent annually in recent years.
The Shanghai-based Jinghua Co has specialized in Christmas decorations since 1995. Its chief designer, Chen Chuixun, thinks that his Chinese clients, who account for half of his customer base, are more conservative.
"They stick to warm colors like red and gold, and seldom move out of their comfort zone to try something new and in vogue," said Chen.
He added that there's been a large influx of rival companies entering the booming market - especially in places with great growth potential, such as second- and third-tier cities - which has resulted in a smaller share for his company outside Shanghai and Beijing.