While China’s e-commerce giants race to snatch a significant slice of the nation’s luxury shoppers, one entrepreneur has leveraged her resources to create a more targeted online community designed around a key tenet for China’s elite.
Sara Jane Ho (何佩嵘), the founder of Chinese finishing school Institute Sarita, is expanding her empire by intertwining the ancient art of feng shui with e-commerce. Last week, Ho announced the launch of her new media company GenTree, a platform for affluent businesspeople featuring luxury lifestyle content tailored to providing “personal growth and development” with a playful, philosophical twist.
The mix of personal development, spiritualism and high end commerce is reminiscent of Gwyneth Paltrow's website, Goop.
The platform is aimed at an ultra-targeted group, currently playing host to a community of about 50,000 affluent Chinese millennials, mostly female, with a minimum net worth of RMB 100 million. Ho says many of GenTree’s clients were already in her network of finishing school students who exhibited a need for guidance that went beyond etiquette and into daily decision-making and wealth management.
“Based on our proprietary research, many of our customers are hobbyist investors,” Ho says. “One client of mine who collects red wine visited a vineyard in Chile and promptly bought it, but given her lack of expertise and the distance, now regrets her decision.”
“Our users are also starting to think about wealth preservation, as many are second generation, and their own personal development. As of now, their learning is haphazard. Chinese tend to enjoy learning and take many classes, but the elite lack a comprehensive and structured personal learning plan and end up repeating the knowledge and views of their peers.”
Ho says GenTree helps provide this customized direction through resources like knowledge sharing podcasts, interviews with business-centric influencers, and curated shopping picks from affluent tastemakers, all arranged in a way that’s designed to engage the high-end consumer by bringing in elements of feng shui. “Chinese elites are strong believers in energy and feng shui,” Ho says.
Users can navigate GenTree’s business and product recommendations by answering questions about their feng shui horoscope. GenTree uses face scanning recognition technology to provide users a “score” of their Wealth, Health, Love, Career, and Personal Learning. On the e-commerce end, products are organized into the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.
The basic idea is, if a fortune reading tells the user they lack the fire element, then the app would suggest products that are red or ones that have any association with fire symbols, such as birds.
“We want to bring our shoppers better fortune by, for example, helping someone analyze that red is their lucky color and if she wears a beautiful red gown to a ball, she would be the star of the show,” Ho says.
While high-end products are funneled through the platform and matched with users based on their horoscope, brands handle their own shipping and logistics.
Product offerings on the app, though, will tend to be more focused on items or brands that are less attainable in China and span all things lifestyle, including flatware, furniture, childrenswear, art, and even high end pet accessories. One of the designers featured is Daniella Helayel, who’s fashion brand Dhela is a known favorite of Kate Middleton.
“For me, luxury is no longer about expensive pricing, but rather about quality, an artisanal brand, and a unique DNA” Ho says. “I want to show my users the world.”
Ho says GenTree is based on an online to offline model utilizing a network of private clubhouses in China, starting with Casa Fengchao in Beijing. Club members will be able to access exclusive offline events hosted by luxury brands, including an upcoming Gucci Christmas luncheon and a recent afternoon tea with Net-a-Porter. “Brands collaborate with us because they are interested in reaching a very targeted affluent consumer base,” Ho says.
There’s also a side of the platform that’s considered directly beneficial for luxury marketers, especially lesser-known designer brands, looking to pinpoint a sophisticated, well-traveled, niche consumer base in China as GenTree offers brand consulting and CRM servicing, in addition to the e-commerce component.
The app portion of the platform is due to launch later this month, while the community already claims a growing social media network, with approximately 150,000 WeChat followers to date. Ho says her live streams, which have so far featured fashion designer Jason Wu, Gossip Girl’s Kelly Rutherford, and Ho’s cousin the athleisure model Adrianne Ho, have averaged 3 million views, while the aim is to reach 1 million high-end users by 2018.