For over 60 years, three generations of the Wolf Family have made people feel better.
Ed Wolf opened his corner drugstore just outside Philadelphia in 1956. His son, Gary, took over in 1977 and built out a chain of pharmacies that he and his wife sold, then started a wellness store. Grandson Sam took the brick-and-mortar operation into e-commerce in 2004, fulfilling Web orders from the store’s shelves, then hand-packing and shipping boxes to farflung customers.
From that, LuckyVitamin.com was born. And with the start of shipping to dozens of countries and the launch of a China storefront on Alibaba’s Tmall Global platform last year, founder and CEO Sam Wolf is looking to parlay his North American wellness success into a global phenomenon.
People all over the world are asking “how can I live healthier?” Wolf said. That’s the consumer base LuckyVitamin targets with 40,000 foods, beauty and skincare products, supplements, natural household cleaning products, pet products and “anything we feel important in promoting a healthy and holistic life.”
Watch a video about LuckyVitamin on Tmall
As LuckyVitamin did its homework on potential markets for its wellness products, China quickly came to the forefront. Anecdotally, Wolf knew some of his Chinese customers in the U.S. were buying and shipping LuckyVitamin products to families and friends overseas,
“It’s a very large market. Some of our research found there was a large population that lives healthy and is thinking about the products and what’s in them,” Wolf said. “Also, they like and are looking for brands made in the USA …We knew we had an opportunity to tap into that market.”
The 200-employee company’s decision to enter China via Tmall was based on more market research and advice. LuckyVitamin worked with Tmall partners to launch its China storefront in time for Alibaba’s 11.11 shopping extravaganza in late 2016.
“In many other countries, we recognized shopping online meant visiting a single website. In China, we quickly learned the market was different,” said Wolf. “The Chinese consumer typically shops through the Tmall platform…So, clearly, if we wanted to reach the Chinese consumer, we had to go where they’re shopping.”
LuckyVitamin wasn’t simply interested in moving product halfway across the world. It wanted to start building a new community, bringing together Chinese consumers who shared the company’s values.
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“We wanted to do it in a way where we could tell the brand story and offer the high-touch value we bring to the shopping experience–the content and everything else that comes with it,” Wolf said. “We saw that Tmall offered that kind of support for the brand.”
From its start on Tmall in November 2016, LuckyVitamin now offers 10,500 products to Chinese customers and is on a steep learning curve to understand what they want and how to present it to them.
“You need to be strategic. It’s more than just putting up your products,” said Wolf. “Like any new business venture, we test what works and what doesn’t. Tmall is helpful in supporting us.”
One lesson is that while U.S. and Chinese consumers are similar in their passion for health and wellness products, Chinese consumers are more interested in deals and discounts.
“They’re seeking out items for a good value that they can trust, but they’re looking for times where they can save,” Wolf said.
That has led LuckyVitamin to be more creative in some of its Tmall promotions, offering discounts for purchases of two to three items, instead of just one, or incentives to shop across two or three categories of items to get savings.
“We’re still exploring ways of how to form longer-term partnerships and get customers coming back,” said Wolf.
In these early days, Wolf’s advice to other would-be Tmall sellers is to work closely with the platform and take full advantage of its marketing systems, opportunities for sponsored products and referrals.
“What always works historically for us is learning as we go,” said Wolf. “We’re excited about the opportunity.”
On June 20-21, Alibaba Group will host a conference in Detroit called Gateway ’17 to help U.S. small businesses learn about the opportunities available to them in the China market and network with like-minded entrepreneurs. Visit www.gateway17.com for more information, brand success stories or to register and take your first steps toward selling to China.