Insider look: Shanghai's 'watch-bags' salesmen

Insider look: Shanghai's 'watch-bags' salesmen

One of Shanghai's legions of "watch-bag" hawkers spills on this city-wide gray market trade
Shanghai watch bag seller
Lu Lei's business card tells you all you need to know if you're looking for "Gucci," "Prada" or "Chanel" bags and accessories. Is that an iPhone on there too?
They’ve followed you, stopped you and bothered you with all sorts of fake goods. Perhaps the last thing Shanghai’s “watch-bags” salesmen have yet to do is tell you about themselves. Today, Lu Lei, a senior salesman in this circle, speaks to CNNGo about his secret life. After a quick glance at the dark street, a short man at his early 30s approached us with a sales smile. Lu Lei whispered near my ear: “Watch, bags?” A question that he has already asked thousands of times over the past five years.

CNNGo: What made you become a watch-bags salesman?

Lu Lei:

There are two different products. One is real branded goods, or so-called shuihuo [水货, smuggled goods], that are smuggled from South Korea. The other is well-faked branded goods, or so-called A Huo [A货], that are made in Guangdong Province.— Lu Le, "watch-bag" vendor

My older brother used to run a business in former Xiangyang market, the place that was known as Shanghai’s largest market of well-faked and smuggled branded goods. Since Xiangyang market was shut down a few years ago, I started going to the street and leading passersby to my brother’s new shop. Otherwise, nobody can find that place. It is actually more like storage, rather than a store.

CNNGo: Where do watch-bags salesmen like you come from?

Lu Lei:
I’m from An’hui Province. The others come from anywhere except Shanghai. There is no doubt that Shanghainess won’t do such a hard job. I go out everyday at 10am and come back at 10pm. In addition to the long working hours, my monthly salary is just around RMB 3,000 and there is no insurance or other benefits.

CNNGo: How do you get paid?

Lu Lei:
I get RMB 1,500 per month as basic payment and can get two percent out of deals that I bring. For instance, I could get RMB 2 if you would buy stuff at RMB 100. As I know, all the watch-bags salesmen along Shaanxi Nan Lu get paid in this way.

CNNGo: Who are your clients?

Lu Lei:
Both the locals and tourists. Our major clients are tourists, such as foreigners, Taiwanese and Hongkongese.

CNNGo: Where do the watch-bags salesmen get the products?

Lu Lei:
We only bring clients to the store, and the store owner is responsible for getting the products. In my brother’s store, there are two different products. One is real branded goods, or so-called shuihuo [水货, smuggled goods], that are smuggled from South Korea. The other is well-faked branded goods, or so-called A Huo [A货], that are made in Guangdong Province.

CNNGo: Will the watch-bags salesmen disappear due to the upcoming Expo?

Lu Lei:
Yes, Heimao [黑猫, literally "black cats," but also the nickname for Chinese cops] started watching us very closely. Only two stores in this street [Shaanxi Nan Lu] are still open now, while the number was over 10 before. Those stores are most likely to re-open after the Expo.

CNNGo: Why is your brother’s store still open?

Lu Lei:
Because we have good guanxi [关系, relationships] with local authorities. However, even for us, it is getting harder and harder to attract clients, as we are only allowed to show up at night. Can you introduce some foreigners to me? I would love to give you a free bag in return!

Coco Liu is a freelance writer, primarily covering China's business and culture issues.

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