Design is…The Blog Journeys to China

Shaw Contract Group guest blogger Dan Levin is a Beijing-based, Mandarin-speaking Newsweek correspondent and frequent contributor to The New York Times, Fast Company and other major publications. With a finger on the pulse of a nation, and the keyboard of his laptop, he provides his take on a nation transformed by design.

It’s nearly dusk one day in early May when an international crowd gathers high up in a glass tower just east of Tiananmen Square. Over sushi rolls and champagne, the conversation is bilingual and the mood festive. And with good reason: designers and executives are celebrating the opening of Shaw Contract Group’s Beijing showroom, the latest stage in Shaw’s exciting journey into China.

The opening precedes the groundbreaking of Shaw’s new carpet tile plant in Nantong, which is set to begin manufacturing in 2013. For months, company executives have been shuttling between the U.S. and China to oversee these efforts, which, combined with the Shaw Contract Group showrooms across Asia, will give customers faster and better access to the brand’s entire product line.

The showroom, with Shaw Contract Group carpet tile under foot and modern design elements all around, reflects the company’s keen understanding of Beijing’s aesthetic sophistication as a world class city. That was not lost on the designers who have come from across the globe to work and create here, much like Shaw.

“Shaw has really great patterns others can’t copy,” said Shelly Xu, a Beijing native and interior designer with Kling Stubbins, as she nodded to the vibrant carpet which lined the floors. Xu was also quick to express a growing appreciation among her Chinese clients for the company’s Cradle to Cradle certified carpet tile, which she said has helped set the standard for top Chinese clients. The product’s EcoWorx backing and Eco Solution Q fiber can both be recycled back into new product, endlessly. “The big bosses care about the environment and know they can trust Shaw,” she said.

For Shaw Contract Group executives, the Beijing showroom opening gave them a chance to combine the company’s American style with Chinese culture. Maggie Liu, Shaw Contract Group’s Regional Sales Director for Greater China, was busy for much of the night collaborating with clients and discussing different patterns with designers, service providers and customers.

“This kind of interaction is very important,” she said. “The sales team understands the market and deals with customers day to day, so here we see what colors and styles meet expectations of the local market.”

Nowhere was that more clear than in the showroom. “The idea was to create a place to be inspired,” said Liu. The opening was just the beginning. It will also be a hub for Shaw Contract Group collaborations with design firms around the city. This is a major aspect of Shaw’s engagement plan. “We’re becoming part of the community,” said Liu.

Nickolas Adams, the managing director of the Beijing-based architectural firm ADI, said the strategy was already working. “Shaw came to us and asked ‘what would you like to see,” he said. “That shows they are interested in being part of the creative process.”

On the sales front, the showroom is creating new success on the ground. Now there is a space for Chinese companies in the region to personally experience the brand, and that has already made a big difference.

“Here we can give customers the chance to see our carpet with their own eyes,” said Liu. A property developer from the bustling nearby city of Tianjin, just to the southeast, visited the showroom, chose a carpet tile on the spot and signed the contract. Therein lies the showroom’s immediate value for the local market.

“For Chinese,” said Liu, “seeing is believing.”

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