08/08/2013 - 08:51

Metier taps into Chinese appetite for big brands

08/08/2013 - 08:51

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A Perth property consultant has secured a major contract in China, indicating ample opportunities for WA service providers willing to embrace the Chinese way of doing business.

Metier taps into Chinese appetite for big brands
MORE THAN G’DAY: Darryll Ashworth says building relationships is an essential part of doing business in China. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A Perth property consultant has secured a major contract in China, indicating ample opportunities for WA service providers willing to embrace the Chinese way of doing business.

The property business behind the launch of Perth’s only dedicated outlet shopping centre has netted a slice of the burgeoning Chinese market.

Darryll Ashworth’s Metier has secured a 15-year contract with Chinese developer Jian Kun International to lease, manage and market its $2 billion EMPORIUM outlet shopping centre in south-west China.

It’s a big catch for Metier, which has built a strong book of retail leasing, management and consulting clients since it launched the Harbour Town brand back in 2003.

But it also reveals a broadening in the trade relationship between Australia and China, according to Mr Ashworth, who has been impressed by Jian Kun International’s willingness to listen and accept Metier’s advice.

“It’s early days but so far everything we’ve said ‘you need to change’ they’ve changed and I haven’t met a client in 28 years of business that takes everything I says and does it,” Mr Ashworth told Business News.

“China is increasingly looking to import the best in the world when it comes to skills, without doubt they want to improve their way of life and their standard of living enormously.”

This new focus on the long-term benefits of world-class advice translates into lucrative business opportunities across a broad range of disciplines for Western Australian companies.

Mr Ashworth said there was a long list of skills Australians could export to China including environmental, architectural, and professional services but he warned doing business in China took time and everything depended on the strength of your relationships.

Metier’s foray into China dates back nine years, to a serendipitous meeting between Mr Ashworth and Malaysian businessman Victor Lim.

Mr Lim runs a large property agency in Kuala Lumpur and he was seeking a chartered surveyor with shopping centre experience to partner with in the pursuit of retail projects.

His worldwide search led to the door of Metier’s South Perth headquarters and a strong connection was forged between the two businessmen.

In addition to the men’s shared business interests, Mr Lim felt there was a deeper connection between the two men on a personal/ethical level, which augured well for their future.

Mr Ashworth’s appreciation of the importance of this ‘higher connection’ in transacting business in Asia has been invaluable to Metier, and he claims it remains one of the major stumbling blocks for Australian businesses trying to break into China.

“If they don’t think they can talk to you it doesn’t matter what you bring,” Mr Ashworth said.

“Whereas in Australia you can have a relationship as long as you are doing the business.

“We really have to take a step back from being an Australian white male and understand a bit more about the Asian culture and be respectful.”

This bond with Mr Lim has proved a boon for Metier and given it a taste of Asia’s super-powered retail sector, including retail projects in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and now China.

Their latest and largest project is the EMPORIUM outlet shopping centre within the Jian Kun City development in Suining, a city of four million just east of the Sichuan Province capital, Chengdu.

Comprised of three stages, the launch will feature 60,000 square metres of outlet retail space with a mix of high-profile middle market brands such as Nike, Adidas and Timberland.

It’s a huge undertaking for Metier, which has established an office in China after winning a competitive international bid for the project.

While Mr Ashworth admits it’s not without its risks, he said the potential rewards were too big to pass up.

“Australia and WA are a significant part of our business model and I don’t want to take my eye off that, but this project we are doing is bigger than anything that’s happening in this country, full stop,” Mr Ashworth said.

“The opportunities are monumental in comparison, when you consider (this project) has a catchment of up to 100 million people and we only have 20 million people in all of Australia.”

Metier’s key role is formulating the right retail leasing mix for the project and providing advice on the design, overseeing the development and managing the centre.

It’s a 15-year contract focused on creating a point of difference that will hopefully set EMPORIUM apart in China’s busy retail market.

And success with EMPORIUM could provide Metier with access to dozens of retail projects around China.

Mr Ashworth said already three other retail developers had approached Metier seeking its input on their shopping centre plans.

“There is just so much building going on there and they all want that point of difference to make their project stand out to an increasingly savvy consumer,” he said.

“Once upon a time China was driven purely by price but it’s more a value proposition these days.”

Over the past decade that Metier has been involved in Chinese retail development, Mr Ashworth counselled other WA businesses keen to sell their skills in China, advising them to respect the Chinese way of doing business and take time to build relationships.

Just like Chinese shoppers, Mr Ashworth said builders and developers were not solely focused on the best price – it was more important to forge a strong connection.

“The Chinese are really big on the impression and feel for you, if they’re not happy with the relationship then the relationship doesn’t go any further,” he said.

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