Small and tech savvy firms in China are shaking up the personal care sector

  • Taking advantage of the digital economy, small and digitally-savvy local companies are shaking up China's fast-growing market for personal care and home goods, according to the latest report by consulting firm Bain & Company.
  • They are growing by effectively targeting consumers’ increasing desire for lifestyle, health and wellness products and their willingness to pay a premium for them.
  • Competition, however, is intense and some companies fall by the wayside, says the report, co-authored with consultancy Kantar Worldpanel.
The webpage of Alibaba.com on a laptop computer screen.
Aaron Tam | AFP | Getty Images
The webpage of Alibaba.com on a laptop computer screen.

Small, agile and digitally-savvy local companies are shaking up China's fast-growing market for personal care and home goods, according to the latest report by consulting firm Bain & Company.

With names like Pechoin, Marie Dalgar, Three Squirrels and One Leaf, the companies are little known outside China, highlighting how they have emerged amid the transformation of the Chinese retail sector by focusing on local needs and tastes.

Such businesses are taking advantage of lower barriers to entry offered by the rise of the digital economy, Bain said in the report on Chinese shopping trends, co-written with consultancy Kantar Worldpanel. Other factors leading to that growth are major changes to the retail sector, an increase in consumers' desire for lifestyle, health and wellness products, and a willingness to pay a premium for them.

"These brands have a clear vision and an entrepreneurial mission to fulfill unmet needs for Chinese consumers, whether it is for healthy, lifestyle or eco-friendly products," the report said.

"They take a distinctly Chinese approach to building their brands and make their record-setting gains by moving at Chinese speed," it added.

That means focusing on factors including innovation and branding and a targeted message to consumers, the report said, citing the success of YunNan BaiYao's flavored toothpastes.

Authorities in China have been trying to transform the world's second-largest economy into one where consumer spending drives growth rather than the debt-fueled, big ticket infrastructure model of the past.

'Learn from their mistakes'

Chinese consumers have been embracing online shopping. One clear example is the rise of the annual "Singles Day" phenomenon that takes place every November, and racked up more than $30.8 billion in the 24-hour shopping event this year.

Successful companies cited in the Bain report have embraced digital trends, lowering their barriers to entry in that process.

One such example of a successful company, cited by Bain and Kantar Worldpanel in their report, is skincare purveyor Pechoin. The company vaulted to the top of that sector from a ranking of No. 10 via high growth from 2013 to 2017.

However, the report also stressed that the market is volatile and not all companies survive.

It said that research by Bain identified 276 skincare brands in 2013. But in just four years, 27 percent of them were either gone from the market or had only minimal presence, it said.

Amid such fluidity, all companies face the constant challenge of seeing competitors come and go, the report said. But the smaller, agile companies have an advantage.

"Their nimbleness allows them to quickly test and just as swiftly learn from their mistakes," the report said. "They learn just as fast from the mistakes made by other companies."