When speaking of old stores, many people will think of traditional family businesses. Nevertheless, when society changes over the course of time, it is impossible to do everything by the book. After decades or even a century’s presence in the market, store owners shall find another path besides remaining true to their original aspiration. In recent years, many old stores in Taiwan have opened a window of opportunity by merging cultural and creative elements into their brands. With a view to optimising brand image, Macao Cultural Industry Fund launched the Community Cultural Innovation Funding Scheme last year, providing subsidies to stores illustrating special features and to design enterprises.
In this issue of Feature, we invited the U Bo Wo Chinese Herbal Tea and Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop from Macao, and Yao de Herb from Taiwan to share their stories, with which we can take a closer look at how store owners can unlock brand values by integrating cultural and creative elements and offer a new experience to customers.
Yao de Herb: making a 70-year-old brand young again
Yao de Herb is located in Twatutia, Taipei. The business was started by Yao’s grandfather. Back then it was only a small booth that sold herbal tea. After over 70 years of business operation, Yao de Herb had been passed to Yao Shengxiong, the store’s third-generation owner. This old Taiwanese brand had recently undergone a makeover project in the touristic and historical Twatutia district.
Taipei’s “Be Different” campaign revitalises old shops
“My grandparent started this business in 1946,” Yao recalled. When he was 25 years old, he took over this family business. To date, he has already run Yao de Herb for 25 years. When you are walking in Twatutia district, you would see many old Taiwanese shops there, such as cloth shops, dry food shops, Taipei Xiahai City God Temple and street food vendors.
In 2017, Taipei City Office of Commerce launched the “Be Different” campaign to give traditional old shops a makeover. The idea clicked with Yao. “In order to enter the revitalisation project, we would have to undergo a screening process first. Over 20 shops in Taipei participated in the screening process and only five of them would be selected,” Yao explained. “The city government of Taipei launched an open bid for the project execution unit. Eventually, SOHO Creative Management Consultants Inc. won the bidding and became in charge of the makeover project.” Business owners would need to have a business record and property inventory of over thirty years to apply to join the screening, Yao said. Yao de Herb no doubt met this requirement.
A younger Yao de Herb
“About ten years ago I already had the thought of renovating the shop. But Taiwan’s health insurance policy took a toll on the shop’s business,” Yao said. As it becomes increasingly convenient for people to buy medicine from the doctor, the demand for herbal tea decreases. “I want to preserve our brand and its culture. And the designer also had great ideas. We cooperated well with each other,” Yao added, explaining why the “Be Different” campaign was the right opportunity for him to initiate the renovation.
From Yao’s perspective, one of the challenges he had encountered during the project was opposition from his father. “My father was strongly against this makeover project in the beginning. But his attitude gradually changed after he saw the shop become tidier and has a new vibe,” Yao said with a smile. Yao’s father wouldn’t even visit the shop when he strongly opposed the idea. But after a while, he started to instruct the staff on how to maintain the shop. “My father is very talented. Many of the wooden furniture in the shop were made by him,” Yao said.
Even though Yao’s father showed strong opposition to his renovation idea in the beginning, Yao showed great respect for his father during the interview. “The older generation would oppose such an idea at first. And it also took our old customers six months to get used to the renovated shop,” Yao explained. Yao de Herb is now reborn after two months of the redesign process and renovation.
Catering to the young generation
Besides redecoration, the revitalisation also included repackaging the products, redesigning the logo, and product development. “People nowadays value efficiency. Time is money. We also developed new tea bag products,” Yao said. “Different from traditional tea brewing, the consumers can enjoy good tea after putting hot water into their cups with the new tea bag products. This caters to the young people because it is convenient to make tea now.”
“We didn’t have seats in the shop before. Customers couldn’t really stay here for long. Now we have a small area for them to sit down by the table,” Yao said, looking around his new shop. “Now it is comfy here.” The shop is decorated in wooden colour, which makes it look warm and comfortable. “We now use burlap bags to store our herbs. They provide better ventilation and are more in line with the shop’s decoration,” Yao said, pointing out another change that they made to attract young customers. After the revitalisation, the number of young customers has increased. Some visitors from Japan are also visiting the shop, Yao said in a proud tone.
Thinking out of the box is the only way to revitalise old brands
Despite running an old store, Yao is young at heart. “Actually, the herbal tea industry is dying. Young people rarely drink herbal tea nowadays,” Yao explained. “Before the revitalisation, most of the customers are from the older generations.” In order to appeal to younger customers, the business owner will have to jump out of the comfort zone and look for new changes so as to revitalise the brand. “If you don’t try to have some changes, you will not find new opportunities for your business,” Yao said. “If you don’t improve the interior design of your shop, young people would not even want to go inside.”
Traditional businesses also face challenges presented by e-commerce. According to Yao, he is also actively seeking to develop online business. “Now customers can make purchases via our official site, LINE page, and Facebook page,” he said. Yao holds an open mind for the future. He believes both online business and brick-and-mortar business can benefit his brand.
Yao de Herb
Address: No. 55-57, Minle St, Datong District, Taipei City
SOHO Creative Management Consultants Inc.
13/F, Dunhua South Road, Section 1, No. 259, Da'an District, Taipei City