Positioning Your Business for Success

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By Fang Ying, Senior Writer, China Business Knowledge@CUHK

Crystal Chan Ho-yan, a graduate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School’s BBA program in 2010, is a wine educator and columnist. Before opening her own wine gallery, Crystal was an assistant brand manager with Unilever, a famous multi-national consumer goods company, in charge of the marketing of personal care and food products. However, after working there for four years, Crystal quitted her stable and promising job to begin her entrepreneurial journey. In this interview with China Business Knowledge@CUHK, Crystal shared her passion for wine and her journey on becoming an entrepreneur.

What motivated you to start your own business? What services do you provide in your wine business?

Crystal: I like drinking red wine very much; wine is something that truly interests me. The tastes of wine vary according to its place of origin, grape variety and other factors. I am curious to find out the reasons behind it and happy to share it with others. Also, I am quite optimistic about the wine market in Hong Kong. So in 2014, I launched my wine appreciate shop called Pink Pink Wine with my husband who is also my business partner.

At first, we were focused on retail sales but soon I found it challenging to make ends meet by relying solely on retail business. Almost all the supermarkets in Hong Kong are selling wine and the competition is really fierce in the market, so I realized we had to adjust our positioning.

How did you adapt your strategy to suit the market?

Crystal: Luckily, I found out that there is a potential market for wine education. So we changed our strategy to expand our business by giving classes on wine appreciation and organizing wine tasting events. During the classes, I teach students about drinking etiquette and how to enjoy wine by tasting and smelling.

To better meet customers’ needs, we then expanded our business from offering red wine appreciation classes to include classes on Chinese wine appreciation and pairing, which is still rare in Hong Kong.   

Are there many other female entrepreneurs in the Hong Kong wine retail industry? Does being a female work for or against your business? 

Crystal: Most of the sommeliers in Hong Kong are males, which in fact helps me to find my niche market.

Since there are only a few female sommeliers here, I have an advantage in targeting the female customers who were overlooked in the market before. After taking my classes, my female clients would recommend my classes to their partners or colleagues, which have brought me many male clients too.

Have you encountered any challenges while running your own business? How did you address them?  

Crystal: As a first-time entrepreneur, I have no previous experience in wine retailing. So I’ve made a few mistakes.

At first, I thought female clients would prefer sweet flavors, so I bought in one case of very sweet wine. Little did I know they only wanted something slightly sweet! Since then, I have adjusted my buying strategies and expanded my purchases through various sources, including vineyards, agents and auctions.

Another big challenge is the knowledge on wine and food pairing. Currently, there are only limited books and materials on the subject. So I have to try to find as much information as possible and keep on studying to update my knowledge about wine.

Do you think you are successful in your business?

Crystal: With limited resources and manpower, I think I am quite successful in my business which has been under three years. Over a short period of time, I have published one book, Sommelier’s Kitchen, about wine and food pairing. I’ve also been invited to write monthly columns for several local magazines and newspapers such as Jiu Jik, Cru Magazine, and Sing Tao Daily. I’m grateful for these opportunities have allowed me to further develop my own brand as a wine expert.

How do you see the entrepreneurial environment in Hong Kong? And how do you see its future development?

Crystal: I think the entrepreneurial environment in Hong Kong is improving and the entrepreneurial activities are rising in recent years.

I still remember when I told my parents that I wanted to quit my job in the multi-national company and started my own business, they found it hard to fully support my decision because they felt it’s not worthy to giving up a stable and promising job to open a wine gallery. But now seeing that my business is growing and expanding, they have accepted my decision. So I do believe that more and more people would choose to be entrepreneurs if we recognize entrepreneurship as a valuable career choice in our society.

However, I have to say that the property price in Hong Kong has put a great deal of strain on many start-ups. If the landlord raises the rent, we have no bargaining power at all. Like currently, I have to look for another place because my rent has been raised to a level that exceeds my budget.  

What is your advice for young people who want to start their own businesses here?  

Crystal: I would say that positioning your business is important; you need to position your products or companies first and consider your competition before entering into the real market. Then you will find your niche market.

What’s the biggest influence that CUHK Business School has brought to your career?

Crystal: I particularly appreciate the case studies offered in CUHK Business School. It’s very practical and useful to business students. I remember in a marketing class, we were required to do a research project on a cosmetic brand and our professor arranged a visit to a company for us for the project. Before graduating, we were already given the opportunity to gain real-life experiences like that, which was exciting. Even today, I am still able to make use of the things I learned from that case study project in my business.

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18 COMMENTS

Hong HUANG
7/6/2017 1:51:39 PM
Positioning the business is important, especially for wine appreciation where subjective assessment on wine quality takes a big part. Customers will appreciate if the business can offer them unique insights but will doubt if the opinion is too bold.
Hong HUANG
7/6/2017 1:45:51 PM
It’s also a risky business because nowadays, everyone can access information, for example on the internet, about appreciating wine. To run the business successful, a wine appreciation shop may also need to pay effort to protect intellectual property.
Hong HUANG
7/6/2017 1:43:34 PM
It's a big business to sell both knowledge and experience to customers. Wine appreciation is such a typical example. So I wonder how Crystal has established her own story/theory about wine.
TONG Dandan
6/30/2017 5:44:45 PM
As competitors can quickly mimic one's positioning and some of them are much powerful than the new start-up, it is crucial to maintain customer cohesion by constantly providing valuable and novel experiences to the niche.
TONG Dandan
6/30/2017 5:37:24 PM
There are lots of business opportunities that can prosper by targeting female customers. Females consumers can substantially contribute to the hedonic industry. Therefore, females entrepreneurs may in a good position to provide want they look for.
Qin
6/26/2017 3:56:43 PM
Another challenge facing new business is to promote the product to new customers. Crystal made a good example of how to transfer her interest in sharing new knowledge into a channel of product promotion.
Qin
6/26/2017 3:56:19 PM
For entrepreneurs, one of the biggest challenges is to position the business correctly, because the failing rate is very high for new business, and positioning correctly is the first step to success.
Qin
6/26/2017 3:55:56 PM
I really appreciate the courage of Crystal to quit a stable job in a multinational company and to start her own business, it is a challenge for most of employees, especially female employees.
K. Si
6/26/2017 1:44:35 PM
I think Crystal's success stems in part from her unique positioning. I do not think the environment for entrepreneurs in Hong Kong is very good as compared to neighboring regions, due to the high property price as Crystal also mentioned.
K. Si
6/26/2017 1:34:18 PM
In general female entrepreneurs face more challenges and difficulties than their male counterparts, but Crystal was able to take the advantage of it and target to the right customers.
K. Si
6/26/2017 1:31:20 PM
Wine is not merely an ordinary kind of drink. It has additional elements such as culture, history, and social networking functions. Changing from retails to wine education is a really smart move.
Xiji
6/25/2017 10:44:58 PM
When she realized it, She started to find as much information as possible and keep on studying how to match the wine and food. I do see the opportunities in the wine and food pairing.
Xiji
6/25/2017 10:44:42 PM
One example of the failure story is the lack of the knowledge on wine and food pairing. It is really good for Crystal to learn from this failure.
Xiji
6/25/2017 10:32:59 PM
It is really interesting to learn from the "failures" of the first-time entrepreneur.Sometimes, the story of the failures can tell us more about how to succeed.
Ran AN
6/25/2017 2:30:07 PM
Females attract more and more attention in business world. The Pink Pink Wine case in this study is a good example for female to dig and employ their own advantages.
Ran AN
6/25/2017 11:22:10 AM
Combining wine education and wine sales is a smart idea. Such relevant diversifying can bring more chances to the core business.
Ran AN
6/25/2017 11:01:50 AM
I agree that the rent has increasingly become a serious burden for many businesses in Hong Kong. A similar case is Shenzhen, the neighborhood city to Hong Kong.
Ran AN
6/25/2017 9:59:05 AM
Positioning business is indeed very important. It is not only about where you can find your market, but also about how to discover or even “create” market vacancy.
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