Please tell us a bit about yourself, your professional background and the company you represent?
My name is Alexia Michel and I am the France Country Manager for Picanova Group. Prior to this, I lived in China for 10 years working in various roles in Digital Marketing and E-Commerce, 3 of which were spent heading up Picanova’s China operations.
Picanova is the world’s leading manufacturer of personalized decorative and lifestyle products. We print on a variety of products including wall décor, cushions, mugs, and t-shirts, and do everything from printing, customizing products, selling through around 40 different e-commerce platforms and ship products worldwide.
Tell us about your company’s operations in China
Picanova entered the Chinese market in 2017 and offered products through various e-commerce platforms such as Taobao/Tmall and JD (Jingdong.com). The issue that we faced in China is that competition is extremely high and the products that we sell are widely available via the competition at a very low price. We decided to shift our focus in the market on more premium, Limited Edition products whereby we would take a product and print artwork by famous artists on them as part of a limited edition range.
Unlike websites in the West, e-commerce platforms in China such as Taobao/Tmall and JD don’t have a customizable feature for products like ours so from a quality control and customer journey experience, the customer wasn’t able to see a rendering of their product before purchasing. We had a key partnership with JD but they didn’t really offer this feature, so it was difficult for us to deal with this kind of setup when selling through these popular Chinese e-commerce channels.
We decided to pull out of the Chinese consumer market, we are still present for procurement and supply chain services since all of our core products are made in China.
When did your company find out about INS Global and decide to use their services? What services did your company use?
The story of how Picanova came to use INS Global services is through my professional network of knowing Wei for nearly 10 years. I was running my own marketing agency at the time and established a partnership with Wei providing services to help with INS Global’s marketing activities. Fast forward a couple of years and I realized that I needed help with visa, and HR/legal matters in China I knew to contact him straight away. The team at INS Global have extensive experience in the market so I knew I was in good hands.
I ended up working for Picanova and decided to use INS Global as our partner for the development of our WFOE (Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise) and HR matters in China. In my role, I was part of the team who was responsible for launching Picanova’s operations in China so we needed to start from scratch by opening an office, recruiting local hires, creating a WFOE, setting up the factory, and vendor outreach, etc. so I reached out to Wei and INS Global with our needs. As Picanova is a large company, we compared INS Global’s services to other providers in the marketplace looking at price and quality of service. In the end, we went with INS Global to meet the specific services we needed at the time.
We initially entered the Chinese market by using a PEO solution and then a Consulting WFOE and we still have a member of staff present in China through INS Global’s PEO service.
How was your experience working with INS Global?
I was the main point of contact in China for Picanova HQ and had someone on my team who would maintain communication between Picanova and INS Global. Each time we had urgent requests or things that needed to be dealt with quickly, I was able to contact the INS Global team and our Account Manager would get back to us straight away. The service was consistently smooth and fast.
On the communication side of things, a great benefit of INS Global is that they have an international and local team. Thus allowing for the Picanova teams in Germany and China the ability to understand the complexities of the market when it came to employment or WFOE related issues. The INS Global team was really able to explain everything perfectly for our contacts both in China and Germany, which was a real benefit for us.
Moreover, INS Global delivered a professional standard of service. Every month, we would receive a summary report and the INS team would speak to our CFO about our employment and business arrangements in China. Overall, I would say that it was a very pleasant experience working with INS Global since they handled all of the back office administration and kept us up to date on everything.
What advice would you give to companies planning to expand to into China/Asia? And would you recommend INS Global?
First of all, it is essential to work with a trusted partner like INS Global when entering a unique market like China/Asia so that you are able to fully develop your business in the market. They’ve been in China/Asia for over 10 years so have a great deal of experience and their highly professional and international team that can help guide you through any sort of problem.
When it comes to finding the right partner for your expansion, the most important aspect shouldn’t be price. It’s the fact that you can find and trust a company like INS Global because if happens problem arises regarding your employment arrangements or your company’s legal position, it can be really difficult to move forward without the right guidance or help on board. Strategically speaking, it’s really important to have this kind of partnership with a professional services/market-entry consulting firm to really understand what’s going on.