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Tapping the Foreign Luxury Market: Product Over Hype

If you were once an avid follower of Sex and the City (and if you’re a guy, I bet your wife was!), then you’ve seen the jewelry of Mimi So. This third-generation jeweler’s pieces have graced the necklines and wrists of runway models, celebrities on red carpet nights, and the fashion pages of top magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and In Style. A trendsetter who has taken fine jewelry from classic to modern, So says her secret to success has not been as much in marketing as in product. And that’s especially true with her expansion into foreign markets.

“The design and integrity of craftsmanship are key, particularly in the Middle East, Japan and Asia,” she says. “That even comes before being famous!” she adds with a laugh.

Her insights are well worth considering for any business owner looking to expand beyond U.S. borders, especially into Eastern cultures. So says her Middle Eastern and Asian markets like products that have been proven and that one can find in top luxury retail stores in places like New York, Chicago and Beverly Hills, Calif. Business owners in foreign markets tend to ask these types of questions: “Is the message of the brand consistent? How long has it been around?” she says are the types of questions they tend to ask. “Because I travel a lot, it helps me understand the market, culture and what appeals to them.”

For example, she’s found that Japanese women prefer smaller jewelry pieces, and Middle Easterners want things bigger than what Americans wear. “I don’t create a design solely for a new market, but I do ask, ‘How do I apply what I have created to another culture?’ ” she explains. “It’s a great challenge for a designer.”
 

Breaking into the Luxury Retail Market

While most entrepreneurs think the path to success is persistently pursuing customers and marketing heavily, Mimi So says that’s not necessarily the case if your product is for the luxury market. “You don’t break in so much as you get discovered,” she says. How do you increase the chances of “discovery?” Here are So’s tips:

Get in the press. People who buy luxury products seek out information and do their homework. Work those relationships with luxury media.

Keep delivering incredible products. “It’s kind of like being an actress,” So says. “You’re only as good as your last movie.”

Let your work speak for itself. Be honest about the materials you use. In a luxury market, it’s hard to bluff.

Use the public as your boot camp. So says her most challenging customers were those who walked into her store before she got that first partnership with Neiman Marcus. “They will tell you their honest opinion, and if they don’t like it, they won’t buy it.”

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