Everyone talks about the massive business opportunities in China but few British business people manage to establish a profit-making enterprise over there.
With the rise of internet connectivity among the middle classes in China, a lucrative new market has opened up to Western businesses. Car leasing magnate and Smarta 100 award winner Ling Valentine and her top employee Lin Lin have taken the plunge, selling to Chinese customers.
And they are raking it in...
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Figures (analysed by Smarta) show daily revenues averaging RMB 15,000 (£1,500). The concept behind the new venture? Ling and Lin Lin are selling brand new UK clothes and accessories to moneyed middle-class Chinese women between 18 and 40 years old.
Taking a chunk of the cash mountain generated by her UK new car leasing business, LINGsCARS.com, Ling formed a company with Lin Lin called "Lin Ling Trading Ltd" and began to offer new, branded clothes from the UK on a popular marketplace called TaoBao, in China. 'TaoBao' means literally 'search for valuable stuff'. It immediately took off.
Ling explains: "We advertise the new clothes that we think Chinese girls want but can't buy in China, and then we offer to buy them in the UK and post over to them. It is almost a bespoke personal shopping service. These Chinese middle-class girls are rich, even by UK standards. They pay us via Chinese PayPal and we use various methods to the get cash back the UK."
Most of the day-to-day work is done by Lin Lin, who is now a "Blitish" citizen after emigrating from DaLian, in NorthEast China. Lin Lin coordinates the orders, shops for the goods and arranges packing and shipment to China. In China, an employee handles the distribution side and customers service.
Valentine, originally from Chengdu in SouthWest China, provides the working capital, IT backup and business premises in Gateshead.
By applying the tried and tested marketing strategies from LINGsCARS.com to the Chinese market, Valentine and Lin have created a £0.5m-turnover business. And they haven't had to visit China once to establish it.
"We keep costs to a minimum," says Ling. "I learnt this with LINGsCARS - that you must make a profit from day one. I am sick of people claiming they run successful businesses who do not make a profit. Well, we do, and we do it in China, even while we sleep. Best of all there are no Dragons, investors or shareholders - just us two".
It's hard to forget Ling's nuclear missile truck, branded for LINGsCARS.com. In a similar way, between them, they bought a shiny 350,000 mile "P" reg London black cab for £2,500 and plastered it with bright yellow logos to market their business in China. This went down a storm all over China and has helped the business take off in what can be a massively daunting and giant geographic marketplace.
Lin Lin explains; "People in China see dodgy Westerners trying to sell stuff to them every day on the internet. They all look the same, to Chinese. They don't know who they can trust, with so many Western scammers around. We wanted something to prove we were real, so the London Taxi brand does that. No one else has a real London Taxi promoting their business in China. Plus we have such good online feedback with over 4,000 sales."
Traffic levels on the pair's Chinese website on Taobao increase every week and currently run at between 4,000 and 5,800 unique Chinese visitors a day, with up to 30,000 page views. Ling and Lin Lin both work full time in the LINGsCARS business and juggle the Chinese clothes business around the cars. "It is a struggle", says Ling, "but who cares when the money is pouring in?"
Lin Lin adds: "The Chinese market is massive. It is incomprehensible to anyone reading this in the UK. There is no limit to growth, in practice."
The two Chinese entrepreneurs say they welcome enquiries from other businesses on Smarta, who have attractive product lines they think will slot into their "rich Chinese female middle class" demographic.
"We could sell anything back to China, within reason," says Lin Lin. "Many of the new clothes are made in China, and we buy them in the UK and ship them straight back. Slotting jewellery or handbags or shoes or even iPads into our product lines would be easy, but they must have a good selling point; the customers are very choosy. And we can't send anything that would be impounded by customs, like alcohol."
Ling adds: "Unlike western girls, the posh Chinese girls don't just buy any old tat. They are seriously loaded and both our goods and our service need to be the best."
Ling Valentine and Lin Lin can be contacted on email@example.com
Do you run a business in China? Tell us about it below.