Claudia Masüger CEO Cheers
Text: Claudia Wirz/Images: Cheers
With her expanding wholesale wine business and a chain of wine shops in Beijing, Claudia Masüger is in the process of changing China’s wine market.
“For the Chinese, it’s a great compliment to be copied. ”
With clear focus, unyielding perseverance, hard work, an understanding of a different culture, lots of passion and thanks to an outstanding team of people!
It was more by coincidence than design. I was looking for adventure, and China struck me as being a huge and attractive market.
Yes, your gold-digger allusion hits the nail on the head. Many companies want to get a foothold in China. It’s an emerging market with enormous potential, but also many risks and tremendous challenges.
With our Cheers chain of wine shops, we’re addressing a young, modern and open-minded target group. The generational evolution in China is bringing about countless changes. Wine consumption is still in its infancy but is increasing at a torrid pace. Young Chinese adore this new trend and are adopting it into their lifestyle.
“I don’t believe that Chinese wine will become a major topic in Europe.”
The young crowd is very open to the new. In our shops, they can try all sorts of wine. We offer many degustation parties where we can introduce the Chinese to the complex world of wine in an amusing and understandable way. It’s important that each of them acquires their own special taste. We also demonstrate to them how wine and dining can be combined, and at which occasions and events we in Europe consume still wines or sparkling wines. It’s great fun to acquaint a fascinated target group with our wine know-how and products.
We work very intensively with the Chinese versions of social media. Weibo, Weixin and Youku are important tools there for getting the attention of young people. We set great store in the power of video-marketing. In all of our shops, we show our weekly homemade videos which give customers insight into our company culture, even as they impart specialised know-how in a modern and amusing way. Our motto is “Cheers makes you smile”.
Chinese people’s taste for wine is only beginning to develop. In the past, they mainly bought and drank wine for prestige purposes – usually with business considerations in the back of their mind. The focus was of course on French wines. Our Beijing chain of shops has changed the wine market because our moderate prices and uncomplicated style makes it possible also for young people to get to know wine. Our customers drink wine for private purposes, because they have fun doing it. And as is the case all over the world, they start out with the sweeter, fruitier varieties.
Much to the contrary: Switzerland is very popular in China! But Swiss wines are relatively expensive and not very well known.
The free trade agreement will be advantageous for us only in about ten years’ time, given that the tariffs will be lowered in gradual steps. At present, Swiss wines account for a mere fraction of our sales. For that reason, the FTA is not yet of importance to our company.
“The free trade agreement will be advantageous for us only in about ten years’ time.”
Chinese vintners are fast learners but what’s mainly lacking here is the passion. Until now, there have been only a handful of really fine wines from China. Most of them are blended with European wines so the flavour can be improved. Also China hasn’t yet introduced any specific wine legislation. Sales of imported wine are increasing with each year that passes, and there is still a lot of upside potential. One of the reasons why Chinese prefer a domestic wine is the low price. With our pricing strategy at Cheers, we’ve changed that. We offer good-quality imported wines already at the equivalent of 4.30 CHF.
I don’t believe that Chinese wine will become a major topic in Europe. But of course it’s certainly of interest to give it a try once.
For the B2B dealings with MQ Wines, having a Chinese partner was a crucial step. In China, negotiating requires a unique skillset. Also, a Chinese individual brings important relationships to the table. However, for our retail shops, this partnership is of little relevance: Cheers is mainly run by foreigners. The important thing is to have good lawyers in your camp.
We have a lot of experience in that. Not only have our wine labels, business cards, websites and logos been copied, but also our entire business approach. Our wine shop concept has already been “borrowed” a number of times, including the employee uniforms, pricing strategy, shop layout, VIP forms, marketing initiatives, etc. The Chinese staff were pleased: for them it’s a great compliment to be copied. But for us foreigners, the very thought is disconcerting indeed. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have competent lawyers on board. In China, you need to be faster, more professional and more creative than the competition. We attach great value to the product range and customer service at Cheers. But the most important factors are the employees themselves and their focus on our core values. It’s precisely this in-house culture that can’t be copied, and it’s what has made us so successful.
In the early phase of building up our B2B business, the “obligatory imbibing” was in fact rather distressing and required getting used to – but it was a key to success. In our shops, we talk directly with the end consumer and drink wine only when it’s fun to do so.
“In China, the important thing is to have good lawyers in your camp.”
I like to drink our products together with friends, employees or our customers – very civilised and with great gusto!
The Chinese wine market will grow in leaps and bounds. Our goal is to open a total of 888 Cheers shops in China. In the summer of 2014, we’ll start with the franchising.
Claudia Masüger was born in 1971 to a traditional wine purveyor family which has been in that business for four generations. When Claudia Masüger first came to Beijing, she immediately recognised that a potential market for reasonably priced wine also existed in China. She has been General Manager of wine purveyor MQ Wines since 2008, and right from the start was quick to bring a Chinese partner on board. In order not to be reliant on Chinese distributors who charge exorbitant prices also for plonk, Masüger founded the Cheers chain of wine shops, which she now oversees as CEO. The chain is expanding rapidly and addresses a young, price-conscious clientele.