10,000+ MILES by TRAIN
Messages & Sausage dogs
Rolls-Royce in a cycle lane
Zola and retail marketing
The county not on a map
Riding the Water Dragon
Chinese luxury brands
China's sweet spot
London calling
Red, red wine
2001 to 2007

Ferrari seller

"One day... I'd like to work there."

Wherever you go in China, you are likely to be not far away from a salesperson.  Twenty years ago you could wander around any shop or public place unhindered (or unloved, depending on your state of mind).  These days, spurned on by commission structures that can make a huge difference to their pay, salespeople tend to take a keen interest in any prospective customer.  The good ones have also worked out that professionalism, enthusiasm, knowledge and a "good ear", are more likely to impress than "in-yer-face" persistence.  At the professional end of the scale, its hard to imagine a more impressive ambassador for a brand than Cherry, at the Ferrari dealership in one of the "Bohai cities".   
       I've never fancied a 430 myself - the sea air of my hometown would turn the "Ferrari Red" into a "Barbie pink" in no time – also I would prefer to keep the arm and the leg they would cost where they belong.  Cherry told me that it could be mine for 2.8 million yuan.  In other words you would just about be able to buy a couple of car seat covers with the change from 200 thousand pounds sterling.  She very kindly offered me a coffee – but it really must have been out of the kindness of her heart, because the well-worn fleece I was wearing was a dead giveaway that I was the type of chap who only keeps Ferraris in the garage of his mind.  

Any colour as long as it's red

“What kind of person buys a Ferrari," I asked. 
       “Rich people,” she teased.
“How rich?”  
      “Very rich.”  S
he was the consummate professional.  Polite, but giving nothing away.  So I tried a different tact: “How many do you sell a year?”


       “What, the dealership sells 15 cars in total?”

       “No, we sell 15 430s a year. All Ferrari Red of course.”

       “Who to?”

       “Mostly men, but in recent months we have been selling quite a few to women.”

       “What kind of women?”

       “One as young as 19.”


       “She was 19.  She came in with her mother and father.  She really liked it, and her Dad paid by Visa.”

       (And I was worried about my credit card bill a few months ago because I had ordered a stack of books from Amazon.)

       Most people who buy Ferraris, it seems, pay by credit card.

       I asked Cherry about herself.  She told me that she is from a city several hours by train north of here (I passed through it a few days ago).  She came to study at the top university here, where she graduated with a degree in history.
       “Do you have a car?”, I asked.

       “No, I can’t afford one.”

       “Do you have a one?”, she asked.

       “Yes, similar to this one”, I said, pointing to the Ferrari.

       She realised that I was of course joking.

       “In what way similar?” she asked with a smile.

       “Well, it’s red, and has four wheels.”

       “If you don’t have a car, then what do you like to spend your money on?”, I asked.

       “After I have made the mortgage payment to the Bank of China, there’s not a lot left over.”

       The vast majority of young people live with their parents until their late 20s, usually until – or even after – they’ve got married; but increasingly young people are renting and even buying there own property.  But the young people who have moved away from their hometown for economic reasons have no choice – they have to find a place (quite often with friends in the same boat).  But Cherry’s situation is, of course, not typical.  I was polite enough not to ask her how much commission she received per sale, but it was clear that a Ferrari salesperson earns more than Starbuck’s waitress. 

       “Wow,” I said.  I’m sure the place has increased in value since you bought it. 

       She beamed.  “It certainly has. I bought it in 2004 with a 15 year mortgage.  Since then it has doubled in price”.

       “But what do you do with your spare cash?”

      “What little spare money I have, I love to spend on shopping… I like to buy fashionable clothes, shoes and accessories… The best place to go for these is the  Plaza, just opposite the train station.  There are hundreds of little boutiques – all underground; so it’s an ideal place to go when it’s cold outside.”

       “What brands do you like,”  I asked. 

       “I usually buy good quality clothes that are stylish”

       That is clearly the case.  She wore a very smart pin-striped charcoal two-piece suit, a white silk blouse with a leather tie-up holding a silver pendant.  Her hair, naturally black, literally shone under the bright lights of the dealership. 

       “I can’t afford the brands I really like,” she confided.

       “I love LV” (she said “LV” in English, and then said the name in full, in long drawn-out syllables, to emphasise the point):  
      "LOU-IS VUIT-TON." 
      "Why do you like LOU-IS VUIT-TON?" I asked. 
      "Because of its history.  I love its history.  Its SO Romantic." 
      Cherry, as with many young people I have spoken with, is drawn to brands that have a story to tell, as well as a unique heritage.  But, as with Ferrari, heritage only works if the brand has stayed ahead of the competition where it really matters: in terms of quality, reliability and performance.  Cherry, although a history graduate, displays a science graduate's understanding of the brands she loves...

Heritage and science in perfect harmony

Migrant workers - Beijing