Targeting the Chinese market: entrepreneurship in wood

China brings out the true entrepreneur in people. It did with Pim Gietelink. In 2007 he left Europe for a sourcing job in China. Three years later he started Merulink, his own promotional products design and sourcing business. Today, Pim is successful with Kate Wood product lines of wooden sunglasses, watches and... bikes!

With an education in Hospitality and after a few years of working experience at a wholesale business, Pim Gietelink happily accepted a job in Shanghai. He travelled across the country, learned to deal with manufacturers of a wide range of products like umbrellas, caps, coffee mugs, usb sticks and pen sets.

“It was an extremely educating and exciting period. I am pretty sure the ‘entrepreneurial bug’ was activated in these first years in China”, says Pim who decided to stay in Shanghai. Today, Pim’s Merulink company has built a good reputation in designing and sourcing – mostly – promotional products.

“You get what you inspect”

Gietelink and his crew try to do more than sourcing and shipping the products that Heineken, KLM or his other fine clients order. “We also offer concept development and design services, we select the right factory, we take care of quality control and shipping – it is all part of Merulink’s services portfolio. If there is one thing I learned from working with Chinese suppliers, it is this: ‘You only get what you inspect, not what you expect.’ There is nothing cynical about that – it is reality. In China I learned to work in a very concise way, to make sure that every little detail is taken care of. I even think this acquired attitude prepared me for the next step of launching Kate Wood.”

Best manufacturer

The idea for the launch of his own product line of wooden sunglasses came when Pim found what he claims to be the best and most flexible manufacturer of wooden products in China. “You can find plenty of them on Alibaba, but this producer delivers amazing quality”, says Pim who named his product line after his daughter Kate, who was born in Shanghai after he and his wife settled there. “Our product line now offers ten different models, made from imported wood like oak, bamboo, ebony, rose and walnut. We offer different types of glasses and finishes. We hope to introduce a new line of watches & sunglasses made out of BIO-acetate this year. This material is 100% eco-friendly because this acetate is made of plants and natural oils.”

Bikes made of wood

The next step in developing the Kate Wood portfolio was offering wooden watches with solid Swiss clockwork. There is also the Kate Wood bicycle product line with bikes made of wood and bamboo. “This product targets the discerning bike consumer in both Europe, the US and China. In Shanghai, cyclists are trend and fashion conscious. I rode my first Kate Wood bike for months to put it to a serious test. It turned out to be a true head-turner.” By the way, the simplest Kate Wood bike will be on the market for a mere € 1,299 (retail price).

Moving up

Though Gietelink sells wooden glasses and watches to European brands as private label products, the Kate Wood product lines are exclusively targeted on the Chinese market. “At first we sold to individual retailers in high-end Shanghai and others cities, on a European consignment-based format: what the retailer cannot sell, he will not have to pay. Now we are moving up, as we have closed deals with larger retail chains, with higher number and even higher stakes.” Over the years in Shanghai, Pim had matured as an entrepreneur. “I am glad I learned the principle of paying attention to the smallest detail, in design, in quality control and even in the packaging and promotion. I can see that the retail chain purchasers that I deal with really appreciate this.”

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