To me it signified a stunning lack of advance market research and planning.
However, I inadvertently may have given the wrong impression about all of China -- that the entire country can't afford the upscale, Western, middle class lifestyle that such a mall presupposes. From what I understand, that's not the case. It all depends on what part of China you are in. Some parts of China have a rapidly growing and thriving middle class.
Take, for instance, Shanghai. Shanghai is a rich city and the center of China's financial industry. A friend of mine who grew up in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution, says that even during that time citizens owned considerable property and ran businesses in Shanghai.
As one reader emailed me, "To compare Dongguan with Shanghai, is like comparing Altoona with Manhattan. It's two different worlds economically." (Apologies to anyone from Altoona -- those were a reader's words, not mine.)
But the point is a good one. As a fast expanding country, China does seem filled with economic opportunities, and not just opportunities to outsource factory jobs from the U.S. to China. There is also the opportunity for enterprising U.S. companies to find an outlet for their products in newly affluent parts of China.
Read and watch the MSN series, "Keeping up with the Wangs: The Rise of the Middle Class in China." You'll get a glimpse of what China is like in the biggest cities having a newly affluent middle class able to afford to buy Western products. I suspect the greatest opportunity to export to China is from consumer mega-brands such as Coke, McDonalds, Gucci, and so on. But for the right products there are opportunities for smaller businesses to find customers in China, too.
If you are researching markets in China from here in the U.S., you might want to start at the China Business Information Center at Export.gov/china. Export.gov is the U.S. government's export portal. Start with the questionnaire, "Are You China Ready?". Check out their seminars and webinars, too.
Interestingly enough, you'll also find a variety of helpful resources at BuyUSA.gov. The BuyUSA website, which is run by the U.S. Department of Commerce, has a full section on exporting to China markets. To use their services, your products or services have to be at least 51% U.S. content.
For instance, BuyUSA.gov offers a service to help partner you with Chinese trading partners. They offer a Custom Market Research service, where for a fee they will prepare custom market research reports to help you assess the potential for doing business in China. Or you can use their online tool to access free research.
Just as with my earlier article about the world's largest and emptiest mall, the underlying point is the same: before attempting to do business in China (or anywhere) do your homework first! Do that market research. Understand the lay of the land. Otherwise you could be on the fast track into bankruptcy.