It’s not often that Shirley Bassey songs can be applied to the challenges facing West Midland firms in China, but Henry Yap manages to find a way.
The Wing Yip director, born in Hong Kong but bred in Birmingham, is at the helm of the UK’s biggest Chinese grocery store and is currently overseeing a major push for expansion at its Nechells base.
His background puts him in a good position to offer advice to West Midland firms seeking to do business with China.
One of the biggest challenges is finding a point of entry into the vast market, he said.
“If you have no previous history of trading with China, it’s a bit like the song Where Do I Begin (Love Story).
“It’s such a big market, you’ve got to remember China is about the same size of Europe and has double the population.
“So it’s the same as if someone asked you where they should invest in Europe. You have 30 different provinces – it’s not just one market.”
Mr Yap encouraged firms to take advantage of the many organisations that exist to promote trade between the UK and China.
“First of all you’ve got to decide what you offer and what you want to do out there, then identify which part of China you are interested in and which sector.
“That gives you a starting point – but it’s still only a starting point. But there are a lot of organisations which can help you.
“There is a history of British-Chinese relationships, like the China-Britain Business Council and UKTI, so it’s a road which has been well-trodden.”
Wing Yip can trace its origins back to 1970 when Wing Yip and his brother Sammy open a specialist Chinese grocer in Digbeth supplying restaurants and takeaways as well as Chinese families in Birmingham.
Since then the family-run business has grown to turn over more than £100 million a year, employing 400 people at stores in Birmingham, Manchester and two in the Greater London area.
And 2011 promises to bring further expansion to the firm, which last year received planning permission to extend its sales and warehousing space in Nechells creating 50 new jobs to add to the 130 people already employed there.
The firm is also hoping to open two further stores in Cardiff and Nottingham.
Mr Yap said Wing Yip’s success was partly down to its relationships with suppliers in China and throughout the Far East.
“There’s no substitute for meeting people and building relationships,” he said.
“It will take time, you can’t expect to get off the plane and pick up an order the second day, it doesn’t work that way.
“I can’t think of any culture where it works that way.”
He added: “Some of our suppliers are no longer just suppliers, they are actually friends.
“It’s all about the relationship and like every relationship you need good communication, mutual benefits and to try to keep misunderstandings to a minimum.
“Some of the best relationships and marriages are actually between people who aren’t from the same culture, as long as both sides are willing to communicate and explore where you can benefit and compromise.”