Martha Stewart, America’s do-it-yourself darling, has set her sights on a huge new market: China.
Speaking at New York Social Media Week this week, Stewart said that she is seeking international expansion for her eponymous lifestyle media and merchandising business, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
She said she plans to focus on middle-class consumers in China on the suggestion of Alibaba founder Jack Ma, whom Stewart met last year and whom she called a “brilliant, brilliant person”.
He pointed to her success at tapping into the middle-class market with Kmart in the 1990s and 2000s, and told her: “‘Martha, what you did there’ – at Kmart in the early days – ‘is absolutely appropriate for what’s going on in China now. We have a middle class of 100 million.’”
Among China’s population of 1.37 billion, the middle class has been booming. In 2000, just 4% of urban Chinese households earned between $9,000 to $34,000 a year, found McKinsey & Company. By 2012, 68% were earning as much. By 2022, McKinsey predicts that number will grow to 75%.
“It’s growing so rapidly,” she said. “But he said within five years, there will be 300 to 400 million middle-class [people] coming from the country to the urban centers, moving into apartments from the farm houses and they need stuff. And they need to be able to afford this stuff.”
Stewart began her business as a small catering company back in the 1970s. In 1987, Kmart hired her as a consultant, and 10 years later, she launched the Martha Stewart Living Everyday line, which sold $1.6bn of products at Kmart stores at its peak in 2002. In 2008, right before Stewart and Kmart failed to renew their two-decade-long partnership, sales from Martha Stewart Everyday products sold at Kmart accounted for 10% of the company’s total revenue, according to The New York Times.
“I was the first kind-of-upscale brand that went mass,” she said. “And we went mass because I really did believe that the masses – the middle class and the lower middle class – had every right to have well-designed, beautifully engineered and well-made and affordable bedding, housewares and glassware for your table and dishes and all of that stuff.”
But now the Martha Stewart brand has grown bigger than its business, and the business needs to catch up, she said.
Approximately 30% of her brand’s Facebook followers live outside the US, she said. Many of her 3 million Twitter followers also live overseas.
Here are five other things we learned about Stewart from her talk:
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By: Jana Kasperkevic, for The Guardian, February 28, 2015