Slim Secrets founders, Sharon and Jamie Thurin

Lessons from Slim Secrets on breaking the Chinese market

Christine D'Mello

The potential of the Chinese market is enormous. And their hunger for Australian products seems insatiable.

One Australian business that can vouch for this is nutritional snack business Slim Secrets.

Founder Sharon Thurin saw an opportunity on the back of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the tax exemptions on cross-border e-commerce and the success of other Australian companies. 

“We had been operating in Australia for 10 years and were keen to expand into China, especially given China’s demand for Australian-made products.”

"To enter the Chinese market successfully you really had to have a strong, successful and well-known brand in Australia."

Thurin participated in Australia Week in China earlier this year with her son Jamie, who is the company’s director of international sales. They found there was a strong demand for Australian products.

“We also understood that to enter the Chinese market successfully you really had to have a strong, successful and well-known brand in Australia - to both the local and Chinese communities.”

She says Chinese consumers are internet-savvy when it comes to purchasing international brands, and they rely heavily on word of mouth from friends and family in Australia.

“It’s amazing that every time we have presented to a potential partner, agent or distributor for China, the two most important questions we get asked are: what is your brand story/history and where are you sold locally.”

"There is a hunger for Australian products, which are seen to be clean and green and natural."

Jamie Thurin says there is a hunger for Australian products, which are seen to be clean and green and natural. But you cannot expect to be successful in China just because you are an Australian brand, he says.

“You need to be well-known, established and successful, and have a strong brand presence here.”

He says you also need to have touch points towards the Chinese consumer in Australia. “We sell our products through universities, we are at the airports and Newslinks and WH Smiths, we are on Tiger Airways, all those areas where you are going to come into contact with the Chinese consumer.

“You need to do more than just have an Australian brand. But 100 per cent, it is a great time for Australian businesses in China.”

“You need a partner who knows what they are doing and who understands the market.”

Another thing they found out quickly was that a business needs support on the ground. “You need a partner who knows what they are doing and who understands the market,” he says.

Melbourne-based Sharon Thurin says as her enterprise is 10 years old and has a story that resonated with many people they met in China, they realised they had an opportunity in the health and wellness market in the world’s most populous country.

Thurin says they entered the Chinese market through several trading partners, and via e-commerce platform, VIP, which has more than 170 million subscribers. “While the result has been overwhelmingly positive, it hasn’t come without its challenges,” she says.

Thurin, who launched Slim Secrets in 2005, says an enterprise must have a strategy before they head to China. “You can’t just go in blind and hope that it is going to work. Unlike Australia where the majority of the market is dominated by the supermarkets, there are many different players and distribution channels in China.”

Slim Secrets products can be found in more than 10 countries around the world. But one of their key learning points while getting a foothold in China was that a company must adapt to the cultural difference. “This is easy to overlook in the chase of a business opportunity,” she says.

“China operates very differently and it’s important to adapt to their way of doing business. From business card traditions to accepting the pace of business. Business takes time, often a lot longer than we are used to in Australia, and decisions take time.”

“It is very important to have consistency in your brand messaging, positioning and pricing."

She says transitioning into a new market is not easy. “It pays to engage the expertise of professionals who understand the market and have helped other Australian businesses enter China.”

Slim Secrets also found that it was easy to get excited about quick sales and short-term profits. “However, we quickly learnt that you need to have control over your brand and ensure you know exactly who you are selling to and where they are selling. We have found that it is very important to have consistency in your brand messaging, positioning and pricing.”

Pricing was another vital learning experience for them. It can be easy to get caught up in the moment and accept the first offers of pricing, says Thurin. “However, with so many online and offline retailer platforms, pricing can vary significantly between them.

“You can literally destroy your brand through your pricing, so ensure you undertake your research and have consistent pricing across all selling platforms.”

Christine D’Mello

Christine D'Mello is a freelance journalist who writes for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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