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Direct seller's roller-coaster ride pays off

Updated: 2010-02-04

Direct sales company Amway has had a dramatic experience in China. It had to re-engineer its Chinese network when its original mode of operation was virtually outlawed by the central government as unsuitable. Now, it runs 180 retail outlets around the nation that contributed over 13 billion yuan in revenue last year, compared with the company's global sales of $6.4 billion.

So how did Amway manage this turnaround? Steve Van Andel, chairman of Amway Corp and its parent company Alticor Inc, talks to China Daily's Wu Yong and Liu Ce about the firm's unique marketing, management and development approach to the Chinese market.

Direct seller's roller-coaster ride pays off

Q: Amway started up over 10 years ago in China and it's seen a lot of ups and downs in that time. But every time the company has successfully adapted to its new environment and situation. As the chairman of Amway, how have you managed this?

A: As you mentioned, Amway had up and downs when we started business in China. At first, not everyone could understand what we did. We believe that our business concepts are pretty good and can adapt to any country around the world. We take the principles and have to put it into different cultures. We need time to adjust to the local culture.

We also have regulations to adjust since there was no such thing in China before. Many companies pretend they are direct selling, but in fact they are pyramid selling. So people may get confused as they cannot distinguish between the two. Now there are regulations and legal companies can get licenses from the commercial department. We know some principles and we have never changed during this process.

Q: The management team at Amway China are all Chinese. As a well-known foreign company, why do you choose Chinese instead of foreigners to manage the company? What do you think about the concept of localization?

A: We adapted to the market not because I understand the culture or somebody from the US understands the culture. But our local employees here help us to know the culture and to move our business, since they are more familiar with the local culture and give us advice on the direction of our development in China. And we don't need to translate during our work because all of them are Chinese. Everybody helps us on how to work like the locals. And we have headquarters in different places with local salespeople.

As you mentioned, we have covered over 80 countries and areas. As a business, we are trying to maintain flexibility in adapting to different countries. But sometimes, we have to keep American culture to be more efficient.

Q: June's sales created a new record for Amway Corp. What's behind the increase? And what do you think Amway's development prospects are in China?

A: I think there are a number of reasons. The most important one is people, including our employees and salespeople. It's their hard work and dedication to their job.

The second is that our products are well established. Take Nutrilite as an example. It has a long history that can go back to China in the late 19th century. The originator of Nutrilite lived in China for many years and he was very interested in the medical idea that China has. So he brought it back to the US and combined it with modern technology. Even the products we have today, we use many Chinese ideas.

Also, a couple of years ago, we set up a research and development center in Shanghai to help with developing Nutrilite products for China.

So there are two aspects to really help us to achieve success. One is people, dedicated to their work. The other is our high-quality products.

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