In this episode of the Sport Lifestyle Network Podcast, our friend of the Network, Rob Langstaff, catches up with his good friend and former adidas colleague, Sandrine Zerbib.  They originally met at adidas headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany, in the winter of 1994. 

Sandrine began her career as an investment banker in Paris, working for the famed financier Robert Louis-Dreyfus. Robert was an entrepreneur who believed in making bets on people; this is why he made a Parisian, non-Chinese speaking woman the head of adidas in China.  

In a booming China, Sandrine would catch the entrepreneurial bug, founding Full Jet in 2013. As many may not know, retail in China is different than anywhere else in the world. It requires an expert to navigate the Alibaba’s and Tmall’s of the world, and this is why brands like Adidas, Under Armour, Skechers, Brooks, Hoka, and many more engage Full Jet as a leading TP partner.  

Full Jet’s success as a bespoke TP partner made them a desirable acquisition for China’s leading e-commerce and digital technology company, Baozun. This acquisition closed in February of this year. Today, Bauzun is the TP partner for both Nike and the Adidas Group. 

Rob and Sanderine’s business relationship blossomed beyond their time working for the three stripes, as Rob brought Brooks and Toms to Full Jet.  

If you’re interested in expanding your consumer goods business in China, or Asia for that matter, you should consider engaging Rob Langstaff’s Sweet Onion Consulting for guidance and introductions to subject matter experts like Sandrine Zerbib.

Podcast Highlights

6:59 – Keys to Sandrine’s success in China: “I was a complete outsider and that helped me considerably…I was completely free-minded and I was able to simply open my eyes and look around, look at consumers, look at the reality of the society of China at that time. And I think in a way, a lot of people thought that these were obstacles, but they helped me considerably because I had fresh eyes.”

12:30 – The evolution of the Li-Ning: “I would say Li-Ning has a huge advantage and it’s quite a unique advantage among all the local sports brands to have been founded in Beijing, by an athlete, which is not the case of any others.”

21:30 – The use of TP’s (Team all Partner) to manage brands: “More than 80% of foreign brands, including the very big ones do use TPs. It’s less true for local brands, for different reasons. But I don’t think for a second that a TP is just a middleman and it’s not by chance that even the very big brands use a TP.”

30:23 – The success of KFC, L’Oréal, and Nike in China: “I think what they have in common at a different degree is that they have from the very beginning, they’ve made a real effort to understand the market, understand the consumer and to become always more consumer-centric. One thing we have to say, even though it might surprise some people in the US or even in Europe, China is an incredibly consumer-centric market”

34:42 – Why companies fail in China: “The big failures come from, I would say moving slowly because China is all about speed and being arrogant. Major international players that did not make any efforts to understand that it’s different, and to even admit that it’s different.”

35:30 – Why Barbie failed in China: “They just took it for granted that the Barbie culture that is behind the Barbie doll was so invaluable, so aspirational that, any Chinese consumer would go for it. But no, I think China has its own culture and this culture is just irrelevant for China.”

38:55 – The digitalization of China: “The digitalization of China has been incredibly fast and deep. And this has been accelerated with the COVID crisis, to a point that is extraordinary. So it’s not just e-commerce. Obviously in terms of e-commerce the number of users, the volume sold online is massive. It’s much bigger than any other country…but it’s going way beyond e-commerce”