Fisher Wang owns IDO Media, a marketing company that caters to the Chinese community in Winnipeg.
Chinese communities have been a part of the reality of Canadian cities for a long time.
But they are often prone to sticking to themselves making it more challenging for businesses outside the community to make the connection.
It could be that the most recent wave of Chinese student immigrants arriving in the last decade are more aware of that challenge and now, as they enter the workforce, they are getting better at bridging that gap.
Fisher Wang, for one, has a good feel for it.
The applied math and economics graduate from the University of Manitoba formed a marketing agency four years ago called IDO Media after starting a online portal as a hobby to provide information to recent Chinese immigrants to Canada while he was still in school.
The business, with 12 employees in Winnipeg, has been doubling in size every year and now also has an office in Calgary.
It was his idea to hold the first annual Manitoba Chinese Business Gala, (tonight at the Canad Inns Destination Centre Fort Garry), a celebration of the Chinese New Year, as a way for the new Winnipeg Chinese business community to get to know the mainstream community better.
“People have told us they want to meet the Chinese community leaders and entrepreneurs and vice versa,” said Wang, 30. “Many Chinese entrepreneurs live in a closed bubble. But they want to meet with the western cultural and business people.”
Wang said the (affluent) Chinese consumers have some distinctive characteristics that should make them very attractive to many local businesses.
“They spend money in a different way than the local Canadian consumers,” he said, “They will buy luxury cars, big houses, big insurance policies and have lots of money in savings accounts just like they do in China.”
For instance, Wang says Chinese buyers may account for more than 30 per cent of the luxury car sales in Winnipeg, even though they likely only make up about five per cent of the population. In China, there are extremely large taxes on luxury cars such that when they settle in Canada, Wang said, “The price of a Mercedes Benz here is the same as a Honda there, so why not buy a Mercedes.”
It’s not necessarily the most innovative move for companies to hire Mandarin and Cantonese speaking staff to connect with Chinese consumers, but it is a dynamic that is only recently catching hold in Winnipeg
Frank Veert, general sales manager at Winnipeg Jaguar Land Rover Volvo, said the dealership now has a Mandarin speaking technician and a Mandarin speaking sales consultant, Kevin Xi, who is very busy.
“The Chinese community is a very important segment of our business,” Veert said. “It is a growing community. We’re lucky to have Kevin. He has been instrumental in developing our brand within the community.”
Veert also values their connection with IDO Media. Wang, for example, notes that Chinese immigrants still have ties to the on-line social media they were familiar with in China where many of the mainstream platforms like Facebook Twitter and Google are effectively banned.
So he knows that marketing to the Winnipeg Chinese community on popular Chinese digital platforms like WeChat and Weibo is more effective than mainstream Canadian digital platforms, for instance.
Mariette Mulaire, the president and CEO of World Trade Centre Winnipeg, appreciates the new approach that some of the younger Chinese entrepreneurs are showing.
“The great thing about Fisher is that he is a good connector,” she said. “He comes from there and he also understands the business language of Winnipeg. He understands both sides.”
New Winnipeg companies run by Chinese immigrants, like Yummy Valley Food Groups Inc., want to target both the immigrant and mainstream consumers. Allen Yang, one of the owners of the five year-old company that makes packaged dumplings, wanton and spring rolls, said for the first couple of years he was only able to get his product into the ethnic food stores.
“Now we are in many of the mainstream supermarkets,” he said. “Chinese food is very popular but Canadians think it’s too hard to make. We make healthy, nutritious food that is easy to serve.”
Yummy Valley is part of the Manitoba Food Processors Association’s Buy Manitoba program which Yang said helps a lot.
There’s no doubt that for certain businesses it really makes sense to start to target this unique audience.
“But the traditional way is not the right approach,” said Wang. “Even three years ago there was not as much, but now it is a growing opportunity. People who get in first usually gets the meat.”