I heard about the Barbie Store which has been open for sometime in Shanghai but never had the chance to take a look. Located on Huaihai Road, the Fifth Avenue of Shanghai, the store certainly makes a statement. This is clearly a Barbie lovers paradise with 6 floors devoted to various aspects of the Barbie lifestyle. There is a Barbie Spa, an accessories floor, a design center, fashion runway, and the main reason for my visit, a Barbie Cafe on the top floor. The menu was developed by David Laris, of Laris, the popular restaurant at Three On The Bund. The design and menu seem a little over the top to me but after living in Japan for many years I wonder who the target customer really is?

I was especially curious about the chairs in the Cafe – very trendy but also very uncomfortable, particularly for Chinese who always value their comfort. I did not see too much that would appeal to young girls so I assume the main target is young women in their 20’s. China may be embracing the same “cute” phenomenon as Japan but could it be Barbie rather than Hello Kitty leading the trend?

Servers wear all black uniforms with some pink trim that look quite classy but also a bit Chinese. My biggest thought upon entering the place was that I was in a Disneyland Hotel and needed to pull out my sunglasses quickly!

It will be interesting to see how well the Cafe does and whether the concept can be accepted in other cities. Cafe de Coral tried a Hello Kitty restaurant concept in Hong Kong many years ago and it failed miserably. I personally have my doubts but stranger things have been known to happen.

The second story today is about the recent opening of the first Carl’s Jr. in China at the Raffles City basement right in front of Peoples Park in downtown Shanghai. You could not find a better place to launch a new QSR brand. Carl’s Jr. is a USA West Coast premium QSR burger concept that competes in the upper end of the market and holds its own against McDonald’s and Burger King despite the fact that the interior is basically the same. They compete with better food and value pricing. I was happy to see that the interior design is a big step-up from the USA model and looks considerably better than a typical McDonald’s or KFC.

carls

But will the Chinese take to premium QSR burgers with set meal prices starting from RMB 39 and going higher? I am a little skeptical but if someone is going to test the market in China then Shanghai is the place to try. Also the development goals are about 10% of the Mcdonald’s penetration which may be achievable. I tried a Super Star and the taste was the same as the US and certainly a cut above McDonald’s.

I was surprised by the absence of any localization and was told by the CEO, Mason Tan, that they were going to follow the USA R&D model. Mason is the Carl’s Jr. franchisee in Singapore and Malaysia so he knows the brand well and he is very fortunate to have the Bread Talk folks as his partner in China. The latter company knows the China market very well and can certainly provide great support and insight.Having said all that I do have some issues with another entrant into the QSR burger segment in an Asian country, China in particular. McDonald’s is not so much a burger concept in Asia as an all day snacking station and KFC is not much different. If second brands emerge to challenge the market leaders in QSR, they are usually local brands with strong local flavors and branding and sometimes different distribution models – think Lotteria and BBQ Chicken (South Korea). MOS Burger (Japan), Jollibee (Philippines) to name a few. Generally not Burger King, Wendy’s, Church’s or Popeyes and the other usual USA suspects. So can a USA premium burgerQSR concept work in China or for that matter the rest of Asia? Stay tuned and we will find out!


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