A common dream of many expats is starting a business in the food and beverage sector, especially in wine. It’s a difficult industry – between alcohol and liquor laws and the ins and outs of the sector, business owners have plenty of obstacles to overcome. Still, it’s an attractive field and a growing market in Taiwan. One of the more engaging and passionate business owners we met is Claire Leong-Good, Managing Director and Founder of Bespoke Cellar in Taipei.
“Taiwan’s eating and drinking culture make wine pairings and multi-course dinners an activity everyone can get behind, local and foreign alike.”
“Taiwan is a fantastic place where you can open the kind of business that you are passionate about, whatever it may be.”
Mrs. Leong-Good opened Bespoke in 2010 to distribute high-end wines. The first few years weren’t easy she says, but after the second year things picked up. By then Bespoke had developed name recognition and ultimately grew into one of the most preferred wine sellers in Taiwan, and one of the few that specializes in high-end vintages. Their wine mostly comes from the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, specifically from family owned growers like Chalk Hill Estates and Bethany.
Mrs. Leong-Good is from Singapore but has worked all over the world. She developed her skills as an employee for Mercedes Benz and rose to the management level before taking a position with Bang & Olufsen, the Danish manufacturer of high-end audio technology. Her experience positions her well to market and distribute luxuries like high-end wines.
Leong-Good found herself in Taiwan eight years ago. After a short hiatus from from the world of international corporate management, she decided she wanted to focus her attention on something she loved, and wine was near the top of her list. Bespoke’s motto is “Passionate About People and Wines” and this philosophy permeates the thinking of the company. Their strategy is to get people interested, and then excited, about the product, as well as to ensure they have a great experience in the process. Customers leave events with more than a bottle (or case) of wine, but also having formed new connections.
Bespoke has found a strong niche and they are not worried about being crowded out by larger importers. As Leong-Good notes, “we don’t compete with bulk distributors; we’ve carved a niche in part because we’re not a huge firm and we focus on quality over quantity.”
Bespoke certainly has benefited from being in Taiwan. Unlike tech and finance, which already have strong business networks established, Taiwan’s wine scene is tiny. Being a niche player in a small, “blank slate” market, but one that is growing rapidly, has allowed Bespoke to chart its own course in terms of strategy, like by hosting private tastings and star-studded events.
Another huge benefit to being in Taiwan, and one not immediately apparent, is that Taiwan and wine culture are a match made in heaven. Taiwan is a foodie capital of the world, and its eating and drinking culture make wine pairings and multi-course dinners an activity everyone can get behind, local and foreign alike. It isn’t all just in Taipei either – while Taiwan’s capital is the epicenter of the wine market, there is a demand for luxury goods from Taipei to Tainan to Kaohsiung, meaning there will be increasing demand for good wines with good dinners island-wide.
Bespoke has a number of accomplishments under its belt, especially in terms of name recognition and market penetration. Their wines are found in high-end supermarkets like CitySuper and Breeze Supermarket. They were the first distributor with two wines at the W Hotel when it first opened, and now their products are found at all of Taipei’s best hotels. Bespoke has also earned a name for itself through their groundbreaking events. Being located in Taiwan has allowed Bespoke to accomplish much, from developing partnerships with some big names, as well as being able to experiment with unique promotional activities that are totally unique to the island.
Bespoke Cellar is a perfect example of what innovative SMEs can aspire to in Taiwan. In an era of high-tech business and speed of light communication, not everyone wants to open the next Google or Facebook. As Mrs. Leong-Good and Bespoke illustrate, Taiwan is a fantastic place to do just that; it’s a place where you can open the kind of business that you are passionate about, whatever it may be.