In the Poetic Oriental Beauty located at the central area of Changsha, I was wearing an ancient luxurious costume, the set of Mrs Imperial Mandate in the TV drama The Story Of MingLan. The makeup was ceremonious, the attire was ornate, and the headwear was glorious and magnificent. The sense of ritual and time-travel was welling up in my heart. With the costume as the medium, I had a mental talk with the profound history and the protagonist. What an immersive experience.
The person who recommended this costume is the founder of Poetic Oriental Beauty, Yang Jian.
A Practitioner of Commercial Aesthetics
Yang Jian opened up the first chinoiserie photography shop in Changsha in 2003. After 16 years, Changsha is still advancing triumphantly in the industry of entertainment. Little chips light great fires; Poetic Oriental Beauty has become a legend in the photography industry.
This powerful business empire was born out of a studio with a strong traditional touch. With keen insight into China’s consumer culture, consumption trends, class evolution, and new aesthetic thinking, it enjoyed triumphant victory in the first half of the era of the internet. And it is still like a duck to water in the second half. Forming a large chinoiserie cultural industry group with artistic experience integrating photography service, costume design, product production, and cultural communication, realizing the perfect combination of modern commerce and the Chinese traditional culture.
The sudden rise of Poetic Oriental Beauty is also benefited from the steady development of the photography industry. The total revenue of the industry has exceeded 300 billion yuan for three consecutive years, the hotbed for the booming growth of photography enterprises. The average profit margin of the industry has exceeded 10%.
As the size of the photography industry grows more abundant, it becomes more heterogeneous and ecologically diverse. First of all, the popularization of photography. The rise of all kinds of beauty applications and popular photography software has pulled down the superior reproduction from the altar, expedited colourful and lively life shows, dazzling the audience and pushing up the commercial value. Secondly, centralization of professional photography resources. By creating online and offline platforms, professional freelancing photographers can be centralized to realize the seamless connection between the aesthetic value expressed by individual photographers and the business.
Absorbed in the industry, however, Yang Jian chose a “cumbersome” way to operate. Different from the new business trend that I came into contact with and invested in when I was an investor, Poetic Oriental Beauty has opened up a crowd of physical stores. The business model is more traditional and lacks asset-light flexibility.
Where are the business barriers? This is also the question in Yang Jian’s thoughts daily and nightly. “I always believe that when a business is developing, especially in a leading position, we must build the moat in advance.”
Even Yang thinks having 224 outlets is a spoony method, but meanwhile the smartest method. “Among today’s internet products, the largest concerns are competitors, imitators and moats. If we look at the 224 stores from another perspective, does it mean we have built a substantial moat? Although it seems stupid to have every store designed and decorated, including building the scenes, having 200 good locations, good cities and good addresses are smart. Because our moats are higher.”
盘子女人坊的护城河还不止于此，其古装 IP 的服饰供应和摄影授权，抢占流量高地，成为加固护城河的关键砝码之一。
Poetic Oriental Beauty has another layer of the moat. Because of the costumes with IP and photography authorization, the company can seize the market preemptively, which is one of the critical weights to strengthen the moat.
With years of experience in ancient costume photography, Poetic Oriental Beauty has gained the natural advantages of costumes with IP and photography authorization. And it owns the official approval of several TV series like Story of Yanxi Palace, The Story Of MingLan, Eternal Love、Ten great III of peach blossom, Legend Of Fu Yao, The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang, and Tribes and Empires:Storm of Prophecy, satisfying the craving of consumers to role play the leading female characters. It also customizes photos for Ann (An Yixuan), Cristy (Guo Xiaoting), Ma Mengwei and many other famous movie stars to effectively drive up the fan economy, reaping the bonus of celebrities with a huge fan base.
In Yang Jian’s opinion, the major reason for them to be able to win costumes IP, a trump card in the industry, is the superiority of heavy assets. “Photos imitating films and TV IP with exclusive authorization can only be taken in our studios, excluding other studios out of the game. The cost can be allocated among all those outlets—- the quantitative superiority.”
The photography industry is extremely rigescent in traditional thinking. The new operating model created by Yang has not only overturned the cognition of the industry, but also gained public praise and capital favour. This embodies the wisdom of heavy asset management. At the end of 2018, Poetic Oriental Beauty, with its swift strides, obtained nearly 100 million yuan in Round C financing, realizing hundreds of millions financing cumulatively. Investors said that they are firmly optimistic about original Chinese companies like Poetic Oriental Beauty.
The so-called legend of success has a universal and straightforward lustre. What entrepreneurs consider to be the silver bullet is just the common market sense repeated over and over by economists. To describe the avenue to success, Yang only had one word, good.
To deeply integrate the traditional aesthetics and commerce, Poetic Oriental Beauty has been pressing forward with an indomitable will. This is precisely the characteristics of China’s craftsman of a new generation: craftsmanship, sensation and proficient business logic.
Gloria Ai: The business world is changing rapidly. As long as there is a market, there will be competition, especially in the era of internet technology. The leading player doesn’t have to be defeated by the runner-up. A destructive and innovative business model might defeat it, or having industry outsiders engulf its market share. So do you long for competition or are you afraid of it?
Yang Jian: We have an obligation to cultivate our competitors. Because what the industry needs is to have more players in it. I set a goal for my team 10 years ago: to let every woman in China have a set of chinoiserie artistic photo. To realize this goal, we need more people to participate in the process, to engage in this industry.
Gloria Ai: When was your first contact with capital? Why are you so confident that capital can help you grow?
Yang Jian: Investors come to me all along the way. They think Poetic Oriental Beauty is doing a very mission-driven thing. Also, our model is very easy to replicate. Thirdly, Poetic Oriental Beauty focuses on art with Chinese style, which will undoubtedly be more and more popular and become a trend.
iAsk-media checked the relevant data and found that the number of people interested in chinoiserie has increased by more than 20 times from 2012 to 2017.
An internal report of Poetic Oriental Beauty shows that the number of people taking archaistic photos has expanded from tens of thousands in 2003 to several million.
The first-class Craftsman Must Have First-class Disposition
China is the oldest “country of craftsmen” with a long history of craftsmanship spirit. With the decline of Chinese manufacturing, craftsman culture gradually comes to itself and entrepreneurs are encouraged to be a man of his hands. Craftsmanship has also become one of the cores of entrepreneurship, namely, making perfection more perfect, focus, accuracy, and commitment to excellence.
The American writer Thoreau also wrote a story in the last part of Walden: There is an artist who pursues perfection and wants to make a walking stick. He looks for the right materials prudentially in the forest, so devotedly, confirmedly, and devoutly that he loses track of time and thus earns eternal youth. Preserve the health with skills and improve skills with heart. Inheriting millennial-aged craft with absolute sincerity is what we call “the craftsmanship”.
Fighting in the world of business, craftsmanship and sensation won’t take you that far. You also need to be equipped with business capabilities. This is the craftsman of the new generation.
As a craftsman of the new generation, Yang Jian does not only need to make products to perfection (craftsmanship), but also have outstanding business acumen (tool of the craftsman). Only those who have both are most likely to be the favourite to travel through history.
A first-class craftsman must have a first-class disposition.
“I have gained insight into a real human need, which is self-expression and self-actualization. When you enter our shops, you will find every customer is happy to interact and delightful. When we enter the room, they will all behave in a more ceremonial way, more earnest, and more charming.” Said Yang Jian.
Needless to say, the photos taken at Poetic Oriental Beauty must be beautiful. The photo is an interpretation of the female beauty with gracefully slender figures, bright and brave, gentle, fresh and refined. In a world where one type of beauty could quickly be out of date, we need to seize the moment of beauty while getting rid of the stale and bring forth the fresh, to meet the ever-changing aesthetic needs of consumers.
To ensure originality and sustainability, Yang set up a research and development team in 2006 to develop products. He demanded that “from the figure, the headwear, the costumes, to the background, a photo must look like an artwork created by a painter, beautiful and full of artistic conception.”
Poetic Oriental Beauty has five product lines. First, Verses, Ditties, Odes and Songs– the four forms of poetry. The work is extracted and purified from traditional Chinese culture works, like Tang and Song poems. Second, film and TV themes with IP, i.e the Lingying Studio. Third, Cui Xiu Len with modern elements, sexier and more aesthetic. Fourth, Diva Memoirist, representing the more classic beauty of China, manifesting various styles of traditional (Chinese) opera. Fifth, Rivers and Mountains, presenting the unique charm of China’s 56 ethnic groups.
It is similar to a painter’s work, while totally different. Because the replicability of the product needs to be guaranteed. At the same time, it reserves space for the further creation of photographers, which provides plenty of materials and inspirations for better products. So Yang is dared to promise that “I can guarantee that every guest will have different experience and photos when they come in different periods of time. That’s why we update our studios, including backgrounds and costumes, rather quickly and frequently.”
To this end, Yang Jian hired Ye Jintian , the greatest artist in the field of new oriental aesthetics, winner of Oscar Best Set Decoration, art director of a number of film and television works like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Battle of Red Cliff, The Banquet, and Nothing Gold Can Stay, as the Art Director of the company. “Shooting the ancient costume photos by the way of shooting a film.” At present, the original themes developed by the company have reached more than 1500 sets.
During the dialogue, it came as a surprise to me that Yang is rather familiar with the details of each work, from the preliminary costume design, scene construction, to the replication and promotion of cultural creativity, the presentation of photos, and production process. He always strives for perfection and is super engaged. “Only good products can really impress customers, especially now the speed of information is much faster, and information gets more and more symmetric. Customers are sensitive to the quality of the product. So it makes sense to focus on the product.” Said Yang.
New aesthetics and new technologies can create good products. Meanwhile, it is necessary to establish a fast, continuous and seamless connection with consumers.
With the internet technology, Poetic Oriental Beauty creatively designed an application called “Online Photo Studio” to enable consumers to realize time travel at any time and anywhere, which could generate customized “archaistic mobile phone shell”, so that they can appreciate the beauty of chinoiserie more frequently in daily life. It has also connected the whole network, creating a fast track integrating online communication, order placing, and parcel collecting, which greatly improves the efficacy and timely communication with customers.
To advocate craftsmanship, we need to empower it. The person Yang admires the most both in work and life is Inamori Kazuo. The book Way of Living has a profound impact on him. As a craftsman of the new generation, Yang’s way of living is to get refined internally and externally.
Internally, it means management and team. For those crucial factors that determine the success or failure of a company, they are not independent of each other but share a common “soul”. It is the team who makes the product, identifies the market, designs the business model, and operates the company. The team masters the fate of success or failure of the company. An excellent team can not only produce excellent products, spot market opportunities, but also be able to design unique business models and bring prosperous to the company.
Surprisingly, Yang does not think to lead a preeminent team and managing people is difficult at all. “The essence of management is not about management, but improving efficiency and stimulating human potential through management.” Said Yang. “You have to have a good culture, where people are very willing to throw themselves into the business. Second, you have to have good processes to let your staff know how to make things happen. Third, a good institution and system. These are the Three Giants.”
Keen on observing people, Yang observes and understands people every day through their talking and working. The stronger the empathy, the more willing you are to put yourself in others’ shoes. “I believe management must start from human nature, and it is easier to manage people if you understand human nature. I have never felt any pressure in management in all these years since I started my business.”
Internally, he can manage human nature with ease. Externally, he takes advantage of new technology and flux economy.
The presentation of superior products is inseparable from the support of new technologies. The aesthetic chinoiserie of Poetic Oriental Beauty is also the result of the rapid development of digital technology. A product could look completely different with or without digital technology. Establishing Poetic Oriental Beauty in 2003, Yangjian accurately grasped the timing as the digital camera was invented in 2004. Digital technology enables background printing, scene restoration, and the use of zero diopters. Yang’s Chinese style gradually established a foothold in the photography market.
Poetic Oriental Beauty today is more like a museum that spans thousands of years. People can immerse into the classical beauty of culture.
The flourish of business is precise because of the consensus on the logic of the market among entrepreneurs. They make a great coup, because they have never or rarely lost the common sense of the market. The one who holds out until the last is the King!
Gloria Ai: To use a formula to summarize the achievement of Poetic Oriental Beauty, besides Chinese-style contents and the development of digital photography technology, what are the other elements necessary to bring Poetic Oriental Beauty to where it is today?
Yang Jian: Besides Chinese-style contents and the development of digital photography technology, I think our understanding of customer needs is another crucial factor.
Gloria Ai: Preserve the heart with skills. Is this the craftsmanship?
Yang Jian: When you are dedicated to one thing, you will forget everything else and immerse in it. This is an enjoyable process. It makes people happy.
An Eastern Giant Who Inherits Culture
Civilian photography springs up with each passing day, yet it does not form a threat and impact Poetic Oriental Beauty, a photographic company focusing on Chinese style. It is, on the contrary, winning a larger market. This stems from the rise of the middle class and the formation of a new consumer class. People have new aesthetic needs, and Poetic Oriental Beauty is the answer.
Wu Xiaobo, a financial and economic writer who has always supported craftsman of the new generation, pointed out that no matter what objects made, they should meet the aesthetic standards and requirements of the new middle class and conform to the strong contemporaneity. With the rapid development of the economy, more and more middle-class consumers have become the mainstream of the internet economy. They have aesthetic thinking, show more rational consumption behaviour, value the appearance, and are more sympathetic to traditional Chinese culture. In fact, it is not just a trend occurring among middle-class consumers, but the consumption trend of the whole Chinese economy.
Aesthetic thinking is shaking up modern business logic and changing consumers’ aesthetic needs. Poetic Oriental Beauty embraces Chinese style at the right timing. After 16 years of continuous innovation and reformation, the company has integrated Chinese culture into different themes of photography, making photography a window for the inheritance of Chinese culture. Because of this, the company has also become an experience centre of Chinese culture and realizing nostalgic sensation. Just like the name of the company——dish, porcelain quenched by the earth, sparkling with the brilliant light of texture and time with artistic and collection value. It is also popular and easy to understand, a perfect balance between elegance and down to earth.
When Poetic Oriental Beauty was established in 2003, the business of wedding photography was growing vigorously. But Yang chose a different path. He believed that Chinese consumers are more culturally identified with “classic beauty”. To become a pioneer in Chinese-style photography, this is the so-called Blue Ocean Strategy.
Back then, western photography was the talk of the town, while Chinese style was not much sought after. In the early days, Yang was given the cold shoulder when negotiating cooperation. “I remember vividly that when I just started the business, I went to talk to the head of the Marketing Department of a mall who came back from abroad. She thumbed down my idea, doubting there would be anyone who would go for something so hillbilly. She said people were into western style, and my business was a no go.”
When the market depressed, Yang kept going. “I believe one day people will find Chinese style the most beautiful style. I hope that one day foreigners will mimic us. We want to make Chinese style prettier so as to awaken people that our culture is so breathtakingly beautiful. Chinese have been dressing this way for thousands of years. This suits our temperament, our skeleton, and our face.”
Why quickly replicate and develop a business that is considered as one with low replicability by the investors? “I have a nostalgic sensation towards Chinese culture. I have been captivated to calligraphy and Chinese painting since little, and I love reading history books. Chinese culture is extensive and profound. Poetic Oriental Beauty is the epitome of Chinese culture. As a Chinese, we have the obligation and mission to inherit and promote Chinese culture.” said Yang.
Poetic Oriental Beauty adheres to the mission of bringing oriental beauty to the world, so that the Chinese style can approach our daily life in a more relaxed and splendid manner and carry forward Chinese culture. Strong Chinese style, beautiful pictures and modern elements accord with the new aesthetic needs of this era. This product serves the consumption upgrade of Chinese consumers, who are increasingly willing to pay for a better life.
Yang regards the strong Chinese cultural complex as a force that drives him all the way. He is puffed with ambition for Poetic Oriental Beauty after ten years. “I think ten years later, Poetic Oriental Beauty will bring the dream of most Chinese women to wear ancient costumes to life. With regard to the number of shops, I think at least 1000.”
We finished the exclusive interview with Yang Jian, the founder of Poetic Oriental Beauty, at the foot of Yuelu Mountain, near Orange Island. He believes that men are made great by dreams, and his dream is to make Poetic Oriental Beauty better ceaselessly. Is what he’s doing new? No. But he requires every detail, every product, and every service to exceed the expectation. This substantiates the truth: the best business model in the world is “good” itself.
Gloria Ai: This is a mission of a country, whether it’s the cultural revival, Chinese dream, or Chinese style. But the dream of a country is realized by everyone and is composed of everyone’s dream. What kind of dream of customers can be realized through Poetic Oriental Beauty?
Yang Jian: I think Poetic Oriental Beauty can help customers realize two dreams. Emotionally, it will let every woman have more confidence in a strong and prosperous country and splendid culture. Personally, it can make her more beautiful and make her star dream come true.
Yang Jian: I would like to share one sentence with the team of iAsk, which is also my belief: Men are made great by dreams.