By Jim Boyce
Frederic and Barbara Choux with Christine Lagarde (right), former foreign trade minister and current finance minister for France, at a ceremony in Shanghai to recognize top small-and-medium sized French firms in China.
Frederic and Barbara Choux opened their wine importation and distribution business DCT Wines in the northeast city of Dalian in 2004. I talked to Frederic Choux about why they opened in a smaller city, their focus on temperature-controlled shipping, and what led them to join the wine business in China.
Why did you start your business in Dalian rather than in a bigger city such as Beijing or Shanghai?
We did it for three reasons.
First, we didn’t want to face the competition in the bigger cities. We needed time to build our company, so we went to a smaller city that attracts less attention, and then moved into the Beijing and Shanghai markets. Now we do about 20 percent of our business in Dalian, 40 percent in Shanghai, 20 percent in Beijing, and 20 percent in other cities.
Second, Dalian has a very good port so that makes it a good place for importing wine.
Third, it is a nice city – clean, close to the sea, of reasonable size, and with a good overall feel.
Why is your portfolio limited to French wine?
I think that people should do what they know. I know French wine and I know how to source it. I would not do as well buying other countries’ wines, in terms of price and quality, and that is my first job – to buy wine before I sell it.
You have said temperature-controlled shipping is a focus for DCT. What steps do you take to get your wine to China?
All our shipments from France to China, including our shipments of cheaper wines, are done in temperature-controlled containers. We use air-conditioned containers set at 15 degrees Celsius and we have a monitor inside to make sure the temperature is maintained throughout the trip. The monitor’s battery can last two months – if you start in France, it can take one month to get the shipment to China and then up to one month in Customs.
If the temperature wasn’t maintained during the trip, we wouldn’t pay, but so far we have done 25 shipments and had no problems. This might all seem difficult, but logistics companies know how to do it and you just have to tell them your needs.
Also, if you talk to logistics companies, you will learn that the temperature on a ship can range from O degrees to 40 degrees, and constantly fluctuate between the two. So we starting shipped with temperature-controlled containers for ethical reasons, because we couldn’t imagine transporting wine any other way. Now it has become an added value for our business.
What changes in the wine business have you seen since starting in 2004?
I’ve seen a small increase in the quantity and a real increase in the quality in my business. As an example, over the past two years, we have had customers in our Dalian shop who come in and buy cheap wine at around 50 or 55 kuai per bottle, maybe two or three bottles every month or two. Over time, some of them have started trying more expensive wines, at around 120 kuai. They say they want something better and always ask questions about wine. From this, you see the growth in the quality of the wines and of the consumers.
I’m a little optimistic about the future of the wine market here, but the key is to educate and respect consumers, otherwise the market will be flat.
How did you get involved in the wine business?
Six years ago, we took a six-month world trip and the place we spent the most time was China. We had lived in Paris and in LA, and when we decided to do something different with our lives, we thought of China. We were not wine professionals, but we liked wine, so we spent nearly a year studying whether or not we could launch a business such as DCT in China. The answer was yes. In other countries the wine market is already full, but China is fairly new to wine – it is a new place to explore.
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