Of course, “events” to most delegates linked together the Shanghai stock market collapse, the renminbi devaluation, the slow-down in the Chinese luxury market and the sudden collapse in world hide prices. It was a lot to take in.
Yet walking the streets of Shanghai, or sipping a draught Tiger beer in the Blue Frog in suburban Daning, and the real “event” that is likely to hold steady when all the hysterics and turmoil has subsided, is that China has become, well, “ordinary”.
No longer is Shanghai a city dominated by the fleets of large black Audi sedans punctuated by Ferraris and a variety of other muscle cars. It is a city that has filled up with the YUPPIES (young upwardly mobile professionals) and DINKS (Double Income No Kids) that we celebrated in the 1990s, when branding and marketing first started to take an interest in the customers. There are even a few HENRYs about (High Earners Not Rich Yet), but the main Chinese society is filling up with young, hopeful, aspirational middle classes working hard to make a success of the complexity of modern city life in China.
So, instead of luxury vehicles, think small SUV. Think Chinese, as they are more affordable. Or, think of no vehicle at all, as the traffic is so bad that a car is only for weekends and holidays. Most Chinese cities have good public transport, and the high speed train intercity links are now world beating.
It is not so much a luxury world as a battle for work-life balance, a struggle to avoid what became an epidemic in Japan: karoshi, or death by overwork. Fast food wins over cooking at home and shopping increasingly moves to the Internet.
In a word, China is becoming more like the world we know, albeit with very Chinese characteristics. If you head down behind the old British Consulate on the Bund and take afternoon tea (a photo opportunity in itself) in Paris Rouge with the young ladies and their MCM handbags, gold iPhones and Sony SLR cameras, you can still get a taste of that rich brand consuming culture that many thought would be the norm in China. In an entrepreneurial, fast developing country of 1.4 billion people they can always be found.
But, if you have been building a strategy based on never ending double digit growth of ostentatious, image conscious consumers, indiscriminately buying overpriced luxury goods then, think again, and quickly. Life is much more mundane than that. Hum drum, even, and rather nice.
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