The operator of the Watsons health-and-beauty stores and Superdrug chain plans to open 1,400 outlets globally this year, more than a third of which will be in China, Chief Operating Officer Malina Ngai said in an interview. Demand is so high in the mainland that the CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. unit takes less than a year, on average, to earn back the investment it makes to open a store there, she said. Watson’s expansion is in contrast to Marks & Spencer Group Plc’s decision to pull out of the country and the slowdown faced by luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry in the world’s second-largest economy. Earnings at Watson’s China business reached 22 percent of sales last year, the highest of all the markets it has stores in. Though Watson’s China business recorded a four percent drop in sales last year due to the depreciation of the yuan, its sales in local currency gained 2 percent. Behind its success are location and rents. Watson picks areas with high foot traffic such as train stations and streets, rather than pricier shopping malls. This has helped the company reduce costs in China, where rents have become so expensive it’s become one of the biggest headaches for retailers, according to Pascal Martin, a partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants. Rental expenses alone have extended retailers’ ability to recoup their investments by two or three years, Martin said. "The figures tell us the demand is still out there," said Ngai, who spoke in Hong Kong earlier this month.
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