Thursday, April 3, 2014

What a Restaurant Chain's Absence from Beijing and Shanghai Can Say

The Greenery Cafe (绿茵阁) is a restaurant chain in China which opened its first location in Guangzhou in 1989. They bill themselves as a western-style restaurant, though their menu also offers other styles of food such as Chinese and Thai. I have seen the restaurant in numerous Chinese cities, and yesterday I ate at their location in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province.

While there I listened to a waitress's story about why she had come to Zhanjiang from her hometown in Guizhou province and how I was her only foreign customer during her three weeks of working at the restaurant.

waitress at the Greenery Cafe in Zhanjiang

And I puzzled over why the club sandwich I ordered not only contained some typical ingredients but also had an unusual (including for China) layer of peanut butter.

club sandwich at the Greenery Cafe in Zhanjiang

But what most caught my attention that afternoon was the menu's map of the Greenery Cafe's locations in China.

map of the Greenery Cafe's locations in China

Their 100+ stores cover a broad range of the country, though I am curious about their absence from provinces such as Zhejiang, Fujian, and Jiangsu. However, as an online store locator confirms, most interesting to me was the identity of two cities that don't have a single Greenery Cafe--Beijing and Shanghai.

Notably, those are the cities in China where many foreign companies focus their efforts, especially when first entering the Chinese market. While this can make a great deal of sense for some companies, this seemingly "obvious" choice is not necessarily the right choice for other companies. Even when pragmatism demands focusing on a single city, somewhere like Changsha could be a better place to start than Beijing. An understanding of why a Chinese business such as the Greenery Cafe can't be found in Beijing and Shanghai could provide insights about a) which parts of China a foreign company should target and b) how some products or services may meet the needs of or be better tailored for particular markets in China, whether Zhanjiang or Shanghai.

I could go on and on about this topic, and there are great questions to ask specifically about the Greenery Cafe. But for now, I will just add that China is a huge place full of opportunities and potential competitors. Although Beijing and Shanghai are big markets, the rest of China is much larger. The Greenery Cafe was yet another reminder of that.

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