Monday, April 25, 2016

Squamish entrepreneur eyes China's cosmetics market

Squamish entrepreneur eyes China's cosmetics market


Anthony Liu is a Chinese-Canadian who chose to open a cosmetics manufacturer in Squamish, with an eye on entering both the China market and reaching clients in North America. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Anthony Liu admits not many Canadians know about his company, ABD Canada … yet. But with luck, the maker of upscale retail displays may soon put Squamish — yes, Squamish — on the global map.
Liu, 38, did not take the most direct route to the B.C. coast. His company launched in Shanghai in 1999, and ABD’s collection of luxury retail item display cases and set-ups — each being an elaborate web of intertwining acrylic, glass, metal and wood, often embedded with carefully tuned soft-lighting to accentuate the value of the wristwatches or cosmetics on display — quickly gained favour with upscale brands.
A few stores in China and other Asian markets followed, and before long, ABD’s client list became essentially a who’s-who in the upscale retail sector, including brands like L’Oreal, LVMH (Louis Vuitton), Elizabeth Arden, Lancome and Shiseido. Despite a workforce of just 100 employees, constantly designing new displays, churning out frames and panels, wiring electronics and measuring the quality of construction, ABD now boasts offices in Beijing and France, with displays seen in stores from Singapore to New York.
So how did Squamish enter the picture?
“We, my wife and I, ultimately decided that Canada is a nicer place to live and to raise our family,” said Liu, whose family includes 13-year-old twins. “We’ve been doing good in China, but we wanted a better quality of life, with the potential of still doing some business at the same time. … We like the community sensibilities here, and the thought is, maybe we can make this a part of who we are as a company.”
Liu’s family immigrated to Canada in 2013, settling in West Vancouver. The entrepreneur was immediately drawn to Squamish because of the ease of doing business and its proximity to Metro Vancouver, but most of all because of the people.
Today, his Squamish facility on Queens Way remains small, with five full-time employees and a handful of others, but the goal is to eventually have a design centre numbering 20 workers, with the bulk of ABD’s product display concepts originating from B.C.
“It’s not likely that we’d build a large factory here,” he said, adding that he actually does not want ABD to grow too big, for fear of creating pollution. “One thing that struck me here was how environmentally aware people are. It’s something that we like.
“In developing economies, pollution is always a big issue, and it increases our awareness of environmental and sustainable models of doing business. This is why we are not really looking to become a mass manufacturer. That comes with a corresponding environmental footprint that, we feel, is hard to justify.”
That doesn’t mean Liu isn’t looking to grow the business. This week, he will be at a Toronto trade show pushing his products. He recently worked on a display at the Hawksworth restaurant in the Hotel Georgia, adding that ABD is targetting the clothing sector as its next key market.
The company is even developing 3-D imaging technology with local researchers to create visual displays for consumers visiting a cosmetics or clothing shop. That product will likely be ready for market within the year, Liu said.
And demand remains strong, given the appetite for upscale retail. Liu said sales at a Singapore location of L’Oreal saw daily sales numbers leap from $1,000 US a day before the installation of an ABD display to $10,000 afterwards, something that he attributes to the company’s focus on detail.
“Too few people know about us here,” he said. “I walk around downtown and I see many, many stores carrying the names of the companies we work with, but many of our products haven’t gotten here. It is our hope that our designs influence the overall image of these brands, and some of that design language would then emerge here.”
Setting up shop in Squamish isn’t without challenges. Liu said ABD needs a very specific skillset in its employees: artistic vision, technical know-how, and an understanding of the consumer mentality. As such, finding the right people has been hard, he said.
“I want a designer to know what the client wants. The display has to correspond to what’s being featured, not only in exterior style but also overall spirit. Finding people is hard, for sure, but I’ve found that the education standards here are very high, and as long as they have the right sensibilities, the other parts can be trained.”
As for his original reason for moving to B.C., Liu (who is working hard on his English, as well as expressing a desire to learn French) said his family could not be happier to be Canadian.
“In the beginning, there was definitely a lot to get used to,” he said. “The kids had all their little friends back in Shanghai, and it was hard on them, for sure. Slowly but surely, you meet the good people here, you pick up some English, and things are getting better and better.