From Bags to Riches

The story of Ever Rich Duty Free Shop Corp. Chairman Simon Chiang neatly encapsulates the changing fortunes of Taiwan’s luxury goods market, particularly when it comes to bags and leather goods.

Born to a poor, farming family in the South, the young Chiang was sent off to Taipei by his mother to learn a craft, namely making luxury handbags. Starting as a factory apprentice at 14, he learned quickly, and just two years later opened his own leather goods store. Before long, he was selling European-made bags to the local market and beyond. In fact, he became the national distributor for top brands like Gucci, Celine, and A. Testoni, which is how he came to learn of the power of marketing and good service.

He founded Ever Rich in 1995, and two years later established the country’s first duty-free shop that wasn’t run by foreign retailers. Located at Kaohsiung airport, it was the first of many duty-free stores, and now the company is busy building hotels and malls in various parts of the country.

The latest venture, on the offshore island group of Kinmen, is a luxury hotel and Asia’s biggest downtown duty-free plaza. It caters largely to Chinese tourists, who are responsible for much of the steady growth of the luxury goods market over the past decade or so.

For Chiang, as for Taiwan more broadly, the challenge is to leverage market knowledge to provide authentic products at an attractive price. “Our chairman’s principle target is not just to sell good products anywhere in the world, but a good experience, too,” says an Ever Rich spokesperson. “We want our public facilities to show Taiwan’s identity and the very best that Taiwan has to offer, not only by buying in the best products, but by creating `an international enterprise with localized service.’”

Ever Rich’s Chiang has moved up the value chain, from making bags to being a distributor for prestigious foreign brands and finding a competitive and profitable market niche.

This is part of a 6-part feature story on luxury goods in Taiwan:

Aiming to be Asia’s Luxury Shopping Destination
From Bags to Riches
The Jewelry in Taiwan’s Crown
Luxury Watches: More Than Just Telling the Time
Upgrading to First-Class
Chinese Aesthetic with a Contemporary Style