EAT LOVE SAVOR’s Editor in Chief had the opportunity to chat with Mark Byrne, CEO of luxury concierge and lifestyle management company located in Shanghai, Highlife Asia, about China’s growing force in the luxury market.
Tell us about the luxury industry in Shanghai.
In brief, Shanghai is leading the way in consumption of lavish, high-end, and often large luxury items. For example, Chinese people are buying jumbo luxury jets, yachts, cars, and everything in between to satisfy their cravings for big, bold, and expensive products. And luxurious accommodations and state-of-the art office buildings are anything, but few and far between as impressive residential and commercial real estate developments seem to pop up daily to accommodate the influx of both locals and foreigners to the prosperous city. The rapid development of the high-end shopping industry perhaps best demonstrates the impeccable growth of China. Designer / luxury shopping is so popular that you must often queue outside of stores, and more and more luxury brands are setting up ‘dedicated customer care departments’ in order to satisfy increasing demands for better customer service. With all of these considerations, there is still a lack of sufficient and quality customer service delivered to clients. However, though the city is aggressively moving forward, Shanghai and other parts of China still fall behind the western world in terms of customer care.
Tell us briefly about the state of the Asian luxury sector?
In my view, China is paving the way to get the world out of recession through the significant purchasing power of its people and organizations. As the country’s economy evolves, so do the tastes and refined tendencies of its people. However, although people are becoming more knowledgeable about and appreciative of the luxurious life, they have a long way to go. From a style aspect, clients often purchase luxury brands and wear the wrong combinations together – similar to a Christmas tree (not a good look). While social behavior is a crucial factor for both social and business advancement, there is still a lot to be learned about etiquette, communicating with others, and common courtesy in all languages and cultures. Our Lifestyle management courses specifically focus on these areas and educate managers about etiquette (closing their mouths when eating), office behavior (addressing clients properly and dressing appropriately), hygiene, and other corporate and social aspects of daily life. In summary, China is progressing and its people are able to purchase a luxurious lifestyle, but they still have a lot to learn about luxury and ways to refine their high-end tastes.
What did you see that inspired you to relocate and start a luxury concierge service in Shanghai?
I’ve wanted to own a lifestyle management company since I was 24 because I was very interested in the luxury sector. Employment with a travel management company gave me the opportunity to travel to China and develop the company’s failing branch here. After playing a major role in turning the company around specifically through increasing employee confidence and implementing procedures to create a positive working environment, I decided that I had the skills in place and knowledge of the service sector to take on my own project. I’ve quickly learned that it takes a wide range of skills to manager and deliver a successful concierge and lifestyle management company, and I believe everything to that point was preparation for launching my own effective concept.
We have Membership packages to suit local or inbound singles, couples, families and corporations from both a short to long-term client perspective, though most clients in recognition of what we can do and how much time we can save them, sign on for long-term. Our packages run from 10 days to 1 year and, as you can imagine, increase in benefits, providing those with the highest membership with 24-7 access to our service as well as priority upgrades at hotels, exclusive access to events, Membership clubs, and a number of other advantages.
What is the mission of Highlife Asia?
To match clients with the goods and services that save them time to focus on what is truly important in their lives, enjoy their leisure time, or achieve a goal that will have a lasting impact on their happiness and the happiness of family, friends, and those around them. Our specific focus for Chinese consumers is to open up and connect the world of luxury to Chinese consumers and educate them about purchasing goods and services that enhance their lifestyle.
What are the misconceptions about Shanghai?
Western cultures believe that China is a cheap place to purchase luxury items, however, the Chinese government places a luxury tax of up to 40% on goods. People also believe that very few people speak English when in reality, in every place I socialize, shop, dine etc, people speak at least a little English. Shanghai is really a very developed place.
“There is nothing more valuable in life than the luxury of time. Highlife Asia stresses premium assistance through which the appropriate service options may be carefully and accurately sourced for clients in the least taxing and time-efficient manner. I created this organization because I believe in not just good, but solid customer service that saves people time and directs them comfortably to exactly where they want or need to go.”
What do you wish people knew about Shanghai?
Shanghai is an epicenter of the world for luxury, design, technology and other industries. The city offers a similar lifestyle to New York, London, Paris, and other major metropolises. It is a very safe and exciting place to live with convenient transportation, amazing culinary experiences, and magnificent views that contrast the old and new elements of China. Its people are friendly and open to new ideas and concepts and every day is an unpredictable experience in such a thriving and growing place.
What are your favorite luxury experiences in Shanghai?
Ok, this is a hard question as there are so many amazing experiences to choose from. F1 Shanghai invited the HLA team to visit its stadium. The race track was closed specifically for our team to be raced around the track in the cars of professional racers – a complete adrenaline rush. Another example that was not necessarily a luxury experience, yet a really fun time, was when I went to the ‘Shanghai Chili Cook-off.” Basically I drank beer, ate chili, and enjoyed the company of friends all day. Luxury for me is not just about expensive items, it is more about sharing memorable experiences with friends and family…with a touch of glamour of course.
What is your definition of luxury?
Luxury is time and freedom to pursue what you personally enjoy and feel brings you the most happiness and value in life.
In my early 20′s, my boss gave me a bottle of Dom Perignon. I was pretty poor in the early days so my roommate and I got some strawberries and discounted champagne glasses from Ikea and went to a beautiful park in Edinburgh. This was my first taste and appreciation of luxury. There was no turning back from this point.
What are your favourite foods to pair with it?
I love a good glazed black cod with a fresh bottle of champagne to share with a couple of friends!
ABOUT HIGHLIFE ASIA: Highlife Asia is a luxury concierge and lifestyle management company based in Shanghai that delivers clients bespoke and exclusive assistance in concierge, boutique event, and lifestyle services. We work with an extensive network of leading global luxury brands and service providers to match leisure and corporate clients with the items and services they need to enhance the enjoyment, productivity, and value in their lives. For more about Highlife Asia visit www.highlifeasia.com