"Now I expect the armor and glory of my brand to last for 100 generations, as the old Chinese saying goes," Bai said. Her booth in the building was developed into two 400-square-meter flagship stores in 1998. In 2000, Fanghua opened its first flagship store in Shanghai. At the end of this year, the number of Fanghua stores will reach 11 in three cities---Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an.
Bai, who only had a high school diploma when she began her business as a vendor in Beijing, now has a clear mind about Fanghua's branding strategies in expanding. She decided that Fanghua, as a luxury brand, should only operate stores in five-star hotels in tourism cities frequented by foreign tourists. The expansion should be conducted in a prudent manner whereas speed is not the top priority.
Bai bases her confidence in finally gaining the upper hand in competition on Fanghua's price advantage; people can get equally high-quality pearls and diamonds at a much lower price in Fanghua than other internationally established brands. Bai said the price advantage is shared by all Chinese pearl dealers, especially those in the Hongqiao Pearl Market, who together wholesale 90 percent of the world's luxury pearl consumption every year, due to China's cheap labor and brands' low budgets for advertising.
To guarantee the quality of its products, Fanghua has hired and trained a large group of jewelry experts and established a joint pearl oyster farm in south China. Yet the Fanghua pearls that sell best are not those produced in China, but rather imported South Pacific pearls and Tahitian pearls from the top-end pearl companies. At Fanghua's flagship pearl store in the Hongqiao Pearl Market, there are dozens of pearl necklaces priced over 500,000 yuan, which Bai said "still are not the A-list products of Fanghua." Every year, Fanghua hires distinguished foreign jewelry designers to develop new lines to make sure that Fanghua's products will be in vogue.
Hard work has been accompanied Bai's success from her first day as a pearl vendor to now being the owner of a pearl empire. She said in the first few years of selling pearls, every night before going to sleep, however exhausted she was, her last chore was to think about all the customers of that day and the products they bought. So a customer at Bai's booth was quite surprised and flattered when she recalled clearly what products the customer had bought from her, even 10 years ago. "I knew back then that I could succeed in anything I do with such diligence," said Bai.
Over the following years, Bai finished an MBA course and is doing an EMBA course and has mastered simple conversations in six foreign languages to receive customers to prepare for Fanghua's takeoff as an international brand.
"Some foreign friends told me that they have added one new must-do in Beijing besides going to the Great Wall and seeing Peking opera. That is buying pearls at Fanghua," said Bai. "I like it and I hope one day every foreign tourist will know it."