Zhou Chengjian is another classic example of a high school dropout becoming a business billionaire. He’s from Wenzhou, arguably China’s capital city of capitalism. Born in 1966, he opened a clothing factory in 1982 but went into bankruptcy after the failure of a big order. To pay off the Rmb200,000 debt he worked as a tailor in a local apparel market.
Zhou made clothes in the evenings and sold them during the day. That meant he didn’t get a lot of sleep, and one evening this led him to cut the sleeves of a batch of suits too short, reports the Beijing Youth Daily. He saved the situation by turning the jackets into casual wear. His design proved a big hit among consumers and in 1995 he decided to ditch suits completely for casual wear. He founded Metersbonwe.
Metersbonwe. An unusual name.
Zhou wanted to create a brand name that sounded foreign and sophisticated. He came up with Metersbonwe which really doesn’t mean much to a Westerner. In Chinese (‘Mei Site Bangwei’), it means ‘beautiful’ and ‘make the state stronger’.
A strong brand?
Zhou has built Metersbonwe into something resembling a Chinese H&M or Zara. His business model grew from the early days in which access to capital was limited. He outsources production and franchises stores, focusing on branding, design and the bulk purchase of raw materials for his suppliers.
Clever marketing too?
Yes, he hired Taiwanese pop heartthrob Jay Chou as a brand ambassador in 2003. In his latest coup, a Metersbonwe billboard appeared in Transformers 2, product placement that pleased Chinese audiences.
Need to know
Zhou has 1,600 stores under his franchising model (the franchisees get to keep 25% of sales). According to a Euromonitor survey, his firm ranked top in the domestic market in branded casual wear. The growth is reflected in the turnover and profits at his unusually named flagship store in Shanghai, the Metersbonwe Clothing Museum. In three years the store has seen operating profit rise from Rmb8.76 million to Rmb430 million. He listed the firm in Shenzhen in August 2008.
In his own words
“Clothing is simple. I went from being a rural tailor to becoming China’s tailor. In the future I hope to become the world’s tailor.”
Zhou’s rags to riches story ranks him 29th on the Hurun rich list with Rmb18.5 billion. He is reputed to be Wenzhou’s richest man.
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