For years, wine-lovers in China struggled to buy authentic fine wines from abroad through proper channels. Import duties, taxes, testing and labelling requirements meant there are several hurdles for wine merchants overseas to overcome in order to tap into the fast-changing premium wine market in China.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, access to imported wines became even more difficult as few people were allowed to make trips abroad or enter the country. That was when Hong Kong-based eCargo Holdings spotted an opportunity.
“Our approach to innovation around technology is to find a niche problem and offer a solution,” explains CEO Lawrence Lun. “We saw the problem that people in China had in acquiring fine wine, we saw the demand, and we reacted to it.”
The company’s solution was to set up PJF Wines, an online marketplace that directly connects overseas wine merchants to consumers inside China, with eCargo taking care of the red tape involved in the importing process via cross-border ecommerce rules. It is just one example of how the firm, founded in 2014, has helped numerous European and Australian brands enter markets in China and South-East Asia.
Our approach to innovation around technology is to find a niche problem and offer a solution.
Service with backbone
With teams in Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shanghai and London, eCargo has a global reach and an extensive logistics network that enables it to offer its clients a one-stop shop, specialising in serving brands in personal care, baby, health and wellness, and food and beverage categories.
“Our business is unique,” Lawrence says. “We aim to operate everything along the supply chain, from logistics and fulfilment all the way to setting up distribution channels online and offline, and helping our clients navigate their brand in the Asian market. We also provide marketing and content generation services, so it’s the whole nine yards.”
“There are a lot of peers and competitors in the market who offer part of the services that we provide but what makes us unique is that we’re fully integrated and operate all the services on our own,” he says. “Because our ecommerce ecosystem is interconnected, we have control over each step of the way, empowering us to operate smoother and react to business changes more efficiently.
What makes us unique is that we’re fully integrated and operate all the services on our own.
“Our competitors will provide perhaps one particular service, like marketing, but they don’t have the infrastructure and the same backbone that we have.”
On top of that, eCargo provides technological solutions, with the wine-selling platform being just one example. “We really, truly believe in technology to scale our brand’s sales,” Lawrence adds.
The ultimate goal is to be a growth accelerator for the brands eCargo serves, which include the UK-based baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen and premium beverage brand Fentimans. “We are a partner for all the customers that work with us so that we can help them grow fast in Asia,” Lawrence says. “That’s our key objective as a business.”
Lawrence was part of the original team from eCargo’s earliest days. He joined the fledgling company in 2014 after he successfully sold his social media engagement startup. He became Chief Commercial Officer before leaving the company in 2018 to work for HSBC, but returning in 2020 to lead the company as its CEO.
“Looking back to how the business has evolved since 2014, I think there were a lot of opportunities to grow, but it wasn’t growing aggressively in the way I thought it could,” Lawrence says. “So when I decided to take up the role as CEO in 2020, I set myself a number of objectives, which included shifting the company to become profit generating and streamlining our service offering.”
I set myself a number of objectives including shifting the company to become profit generating and streamlining our service offering.
His focus on driving success through defined metrics has yielded major successes, like improving eCargo’s inventory turnover by 50 per cent. “Over the past 18 months we’ve fixed a lot of things,” Lawrence says. “We took many opportunities and started seeing how we could actually improve our value proposition, and last year we generated our company’s first net profit since 2014.”
However, Lawrence says the company is only just getting started. Now eCargo will continue to pursue new technology solutions and drive supply chain digitisation to accelerate growth for clients and improve its profitability.
“We’ve made some achievements, including becoming profitable and launching new propositions,” Lawrence says, “but it was only a first step.”