Ringing the Tocsin for Guangzhou's Time-Honored Brands
For smaller names, the risk of being bought out and restructured doesn't really exist.(Photo: Xkb.com.cn)
When Ronghua Restaurant, a 130-year old teahouse, reopened after an urban redevelopment campaign, residents were thrilled to see the iconic eatery return.(Photo: Guangzhou Daily)
When Lianxiang Restaurant (莲香楼) was taken over by a Hong Kong company in 2006, few people understood the impact it would have on one of Guangzhou's oldest and most famous restaurants. Financially, it is a success story, with over 20 branches open last year and a flagship to open soon in Zhujiang New Town. Some citizens however were disappointed by the management's choice to build, what was once a fine eatery, into the most successful producer of souvenir snacks in the city.
Some specialists are afraid that expanding time-honored brands too far from their initial activity could have a devastating effect. "After restructuring, most former brands are operated by other companies, cutting the cultural link with the past and decades of customers" explains a senior insider.
Guangzhou's residents are proud of the city's old restaurants. When Ronghua Restaurant (荣华楼), a 130-year old teahouse, reopened after an urban redevelopment campaign, residents were thrilled to see the iconic eatery return. In the past decades however, with the expansion of the offer, time-honored brands have faced serious financial difficulties and were confronted with the urgent need to reform.
The particularity of these large brands such as Lianxiang Restaurant, Taotao Ju (陶陶居), Beiyuan Restaurant (北园酒家), and Panxi Restaurant (泮溪酒家), is that for a large part of the 20th century they were state-run. Their restructuration has gone through several phase during which private companies have attempted to position them in the most profitable manner but sometimes neglecting their value as a cultural heritage.
For example, four restaurants were previously famous for their Moon Cakes produced during Mid-Autumn festival. Today however, two of those companies have changed their fundamental sales strategy, taking Moon Cakes as their primary business and neglecting the restaurant.
More damaging still is the homogenization of these time-honored brands. According to a survey conducted by the Guangdong Commercial Academy, most customers can no longer tell the difference between two time-honored brands in a same field.
For smaller names, the risk of being bought out and restructured doesn't really exist. Their survival is even less certain in the face of the current urban redevelopment programs destroying many old streets and lanes in Xiguan area to make way for new residential communities. Although smaller brands attract a large patronage, few owners can afford to rent a nearly built shop and unless they are protected they shall shortly disappear.
Guangzhou's Time-honored Brands: Data
There are 94 time-honored brands in Guangzhou. 25 are over 100 years-old. Most are in the fields of retail, food, accommodation and medicine.
(By Robert Wang, David Keyton)