With more than 540,000 followers on social media, The Beast is definitely the most popular flower shop in China, and have been brought up frequently as one of the most loved brands created by the new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs.
Amber Xiang, founder of The Beast, was working as a media specialist in Shanghai when she started to make flower bouquets for friends’ birthdays. Never trained as a florist but always a painter influenced by her art-teaching parents, Amber created beautiful bouquets with narratives in mind and shared photos and stories of her creation on social media. By the end of 2011, her posts were so popular on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that people demanded to buy flowers from her. So she quit her job and started the business straight on Weibo, taking orders through messages and collecting payments through Paypal.
Other than the flower arrangement, the biggest strength of The Beast has been its storytelling and well use of social media. When a customer asks for flower customization, he or she is required to submit a story of the recipient instead of giving instructions on what flowers to use or how they should look like. The finial design is usually posted on Weibo along side the story, being it an entirely blue bouquet for a couples met through scuba diving, a single three-colored rose for a girl struggling in a love triangle, or flowers in a bird cage from a man asking for a friendly divorce. Many of these posts gained thousands of shares and comments, generating loyal following and free publicity for the brand and establishing The Beast’s image as a witness for love of all kinds.
The shop remained a Weibo-only artisanal practice for two years and finally repositioned itself for luxury, novelty and artistic living. As the stories and emotional ties continue on social media, the brand opens its own online store and three physical locations in the most high-end shopping malls in the trendiest areas of Beijing and Shanghai. While customization is still a big part of the business, several regular product lines have been developed and can be ordered on the websites. Currently the lowest price point is at $50 for a line called The Classic Beast, featuring one single rose as big as 5 inches in diameter and in unusual colors such as black, dark green, royal blue and deep purple. Presented in padded black cases almost like jewelry, these gigantic flowers are said to be imported from the Netherlands and are specially preserved to look fresh for more than 2 years. The most expensive line of product came out this Valentine’s day, called The Maze of Roses, with a price tag of $600. A 20-by-20-inch velvet box is filled with hundreds of pink, blue and violet fresh roses originated from all over the world. “Hide your letter, candy, or ring in this maze of love” , says the product description, “no woman would be able to escape… It also proves you are a strong man who can carry 12 pounds in your arms.” The shop constantly collaborates with Chinese celebrities, internationally renowned designers and fashion brands to create new flower products as well as other gift items such as printed scarves, ties, jewelry, candles and home decor. Other marketing efforts include recruiting artists to become brand ambassadors called Mr. and Ms. Beast, creating big art pieces in public gardens, shooting trailers for seasonal lines, and educating customers on flower and gifting culture.
Owning to the success of The Beast, competitors offering similar products have sprung up all over the country, attracting customers with lower price or geographic advantage, but The Beast still goes strong in the high-end market, surpassing others with its creative strategy. The brand’s current aesthetic is a mixture of Art-Nouveau and Alice in Wonderland, filled with ligatures and suited animals carrying flowers. Just like many young Chinese brands awakening to the power of design, it could not resist taking the easy route of borrowing here and there from Western cultures. The resulting “brand” seems fancy and exciting to the Chinese eyes, but really a rootless Frankenstein design with tiny Chinese characters of barely descriptive copy to which they hope no one will pay attention. As of now, the creative of The Beast still stands out because its competitors are nothing pure copycats. But in order to keep distinguishing itself and appeal to a more sophisticated market, the visuals have to improve to be more authentic, exquisite and consistent.
Overall, The Beast represents a new generation of business in China, started by people who were born in the ’80s, usually received higher education or lived overseas, embrace technology and are well-connected on social media. These people come back to China with fresh business ideas facing a huge market that is hungrier, richer and freer than ever before. They understand the importance of branding and are eager to make it right. With strategic focus and attention to detail, The Beast can evolve into the Tiffany of flowers.