When speaking of old stores, many people will think of traditional family businesses. Nevertheless, when society changes over the course of time, it is impossible to do everything by the book. After decades or even a century’s presence in the market, store owners shall find another path besides remaining true to their original aspiration. In recent years, many old stores in Taiwan have opened a window of opportunity by merging cultural and creative elements into their brands. With a view to optimising brand image, Macao Cultural Industry Fund launched the Community Cultural Innovation Funding Scheme last year, providing subsidies to stores illustrating special features and to design enterprises.
In this issue of Feature, we invited U Bo Wo Chinese Herbal Tea and Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop from Macao, and Yao de Herb from Taiwan to share their stories, with which we can take a closer look at how store owners can unlock brand values by integrating cultural and creative elements and offer a new experience to customers.
U Bo Wo Chinese Herbal Tea: old store where you feel like home
Every once in a while, when coming to Rotunda de Carlos da Maia area where beverage shops stand in numbers, we can clearly see the survival of the fittest in the market: some stores went out of business, while some are still standing. There is a store called U Bo Wo which has been here for over two decades. Every day, the store is crowded with customers. Instead of selling beverages, U Bo Wo’s specialities are herbal tea, nutritious stew, and desserts. This old store has recently received subsidy provided by the Community Cultural Innovation Funding Scheme which enables them to carry out store renovation and upgrade product packaging. With this transformation, it is hoped that younger generations can get to know more about herbal tea culture.
“Every cup of herbal tea, every bowl of nutritious stew, or every bowl of dessert entails a mother’s warmth,” said U Man Lam, the store owner who is also known as Mother U. When speaking of the store name “U Bo Wo” and her family, she even gushed over. U Bo Wo was one of the ancestors of her clan, a well-known Chinese medicine doctor in Qing Dynasty who had practised medicine in Macao and Hong Kong. Such a spirit of helpfulness has imprinted in Mother U’s mind since she was little. She even regarded U Bo Wo as her idol. Nevertheless, she did not have the chance to learn medical skills since she was born during mainland China’s turbulent times. Luckily, she opened the store in the 1990s after moving to Macao, accomplishing the wish with another way.
After years of development, besides the main store located at Rotunda de Carlos da Maia, U Bo Wo has expanded to subbranches at Rua da Praia do Manduco and at Taipa in recent years. With a view to a concept of a health regimen, her stores sell freshly made herbal tea, soup, and desserts, accumulating plenty of frequent customers in the neighbourhoods. “I regard the store as my home and the customers as my children.” said Mother U, “I don’t want to owe anybody money and favours, because I think gold will always glitter. In the past 20 years, I haven’t had a name card. I have only been focusing on running my stores.” Hence, it is not difficult to understand why she once hesitated and even resisted to carry out store renovation. It was only for her daughter that had talked her into this by showing this loving mother the benefits—adding values to the brand with cultural and creative elements. “She likes delicate kinds of stuff while I prefer down-to-earth ones,” said Mother U with a smile.
Making it elegant and modern
With a precondition of keeping historic values and special features, the store owner invited designer Andy Chiang to take charge of store renovation. “Herbal tea makes people feel like it is a traditional beverage only for elderly people. Additionally, herbal tea does not look pleasing to the eye, therefore, if artistic elements can be integrated into the brand, more new customers and younger generations may try herbal tea and get to know more about U Bo Wo,” said Chiang. New design concepts mainly revolve around three elements: fish, herbs, and water. “The word ‘fish’ is homophonic to the letter ‘U’ in the brand name U Bo Wo. Besides, traditional Chinese medicine doctors in ancient times loved hanging models of fish outside their clinics, representing recovery and healing; herbs represent the main ingredient of herbal tea; while water is the element that holds them together.”
Highlighting the brand’s warmth
U Bo Wo’s new symbol took in these elements, along with Taiji symbol and Chinese medicine’s pharmacology emphasising reconciliation. For decoration, Chiang has used different materials and colours, such as marble bricks, stainless steel, and champagne gold colour, making the store pervade not only a sense of antique flavour but also a sense of modern aesthetic perception; in terms of packaging, illustrations of herbs are added to some packaging, showcasing the ingredients to customers in a visual way. “I basically integrated original elements that they had and beautified them, making them more attractive to the eye,” said Chiang.
Just like any other project, U Bo Wo’s project design underwent modification as well. Chiang revealed that at first he wanted to feature the cartoon image of Mother U, while after deep consideration, he found it impossible. “Mother U is not after the money, her intention is to do good, warm, and heartfelt deeds for others, therefore, the connotative meaning of this store is about how Mother U and her employees present good quality herbal tea and food. The current design aims to reach more people, even those who don’t know about U Bo Wo’s warmth, kindness, cordiality, and the richness of its products.”
Diversification of products, continuous improvement
After months of space renovation and packaging upgrade, U Wo Bo’s main store now presents to customers with a new look. Mother U disclosed that many customers have praised the store for acquiring a completely new outlook. Mother U is quite satisfied with the outcome and is getting used to this transformation. To take things further, she is planning to bring out more diversified products, such as tea bag gift package, pastries and drinks made by herbs, and Ganoderma lucidum wine. With her friend’s invitation, she is also planning to set up booths at a resort located at Taipa, promoting the brand. As for whether the other two subbranches will go through renovation, she is waiting for some feedback from customers before making a final decision. Mother U also pointed out: “No matter we are going to receive government subsidy or not, we will continue to improve our store and service.”
U Bo Wo Main Store at Zulin Temple
Address: No. 99, Estrada de Coelho do Amaral, Rotunda de Carlos da Maia, Macao
Koon Advertising Design Studio