The qipao, also known as the cheongsam, is a figure-hugging, one-piece traditional Chinese dress for women. [ifeng.com]
Ma Junyu's qipao store will hit sales revenue of 20 million yuan (US$ 3.17 million) this year. [ifeng.com]
Born into a tailor's family in east China's Shanghai Municipality, Ma Junyu once had an enviable job working in IBM's Shanghai office after graduating from the department of finance at Fudan University, one of China's most prestigious educational institutions.
However, a fateful decision four years ago has led her from corporate worker to owner of a million-dollar online business selling qipao, the traditional figure-hugging, one-piece Chinese dress for women.
Dedicated to Online Business
Four years ago, Ma registered an account on Taobao.com, the Chinese version of eBay, and uploaded her first qipao on her online store. Back then, she had no idea that her fledgling store would grow into a wildly lucrative business.
At the time, she was still working her day job at IBM and had to juggle taking care of the store, designing, making and taking photos of the qipao.
Thanks to her unique designs and attractive online store, sales began to increase quite quickly.
"About two months after I opened my store, the Beijing Olympic Games were held, which boosted sales," said Ma. "The team of ushers from the event ordered several hundreds of my qipao."
The order provided her with seed funding and boosted her confidence in the market.
"The order meant that my designs won recognition among the customers. I was proud. When the Shanghai World Expo was held in 2011, I also received orders from the event," said Ma.
As her online store became more and more well-known and sales increased, Ma began to feel the strain of doing two jobs at the same time.
"After talking it over with my parents, I got their support," said Ma. In 2010, she quit her job in IBM and established a company, running the online store.
Ma herself is amazed at the speed of her business growth. In just four years, the number of her customers has increased from mere dozens to 100,000. Currently, her online store has earned 130,000 good comments, winning her store five 'crowns'. Good comments and 'crowns' are criteria used by Taobao.com to label stores with good credit and large amount of sales.
"Since 2010, our revenue has doubled every year. If it keeps on increasing in this way, our revenue will hit 20 million yuan (US$ 3.17 million) this year," said Ma. "Currently, I have 50 employees working for me."
Secret to Success
As the market for qipao is relatively narrow, many people have wondered how Ma has reaped such phenomenal success.
"Original design and our own brand," answered Ma. "There are 300 types of qipao in my store, all of which were designed and are tailored by myself and my employees."
Since the beginning, Ma has been committed to designing her own qipao and establishing a brand. "Purchasing ready-made qipao from manufacturers would be much easier and a good way to cut cost, but the quality is not assured, and the designs would be the same as others on the market," said Ma.
When she first began, the small amount of orders she received meant that Ma had to work with other manufacturers. However, now that demand has increased dramatically, she has established her own factory.
However, in the second half of 2011, Ma found that the cost of management in her company began to rise, swallowing up part of the gross profit.
"It was a problem we had to face during the growth of the business. But now, the biggest challenge is a lack of talented people, especially those experienced and skilled in qipao design," said Ma.
However, Ma is undeterred in the face of all these challenges. "Although my company is now focusing completely on e-business, I will develop physical stores in the coming two years and devote more efforts to promoting our own brand," she concluded.
(Source: ifeng.com/Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)
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