STARTING up a supermarket chain in Hong Kong, where two of the territory's big hongs Hutchison Whampoa and Jardines hold a virtual duopoly, is no easy task. But US-educated doctor-turned-entrepreneur Wellen Sham aims to do just that. He plans to set up eight more upscale stores in the next few years, modelled on his 8,000 sq ft gourmet store, Market Republic, at South Horizons. 'I came back to Hong Kong, where I was born, in 1989,' Mr Sham said. 'I didn't like the two chains here, Wellcome and Park'N Shop, so I felt if no one does anything, I will.' Market Republic at South Horizons specialises in fine wine and food, other imported sundries, and organic vegetables. It opened in January. The supermarket draws customers from as far as the Peak and Kowloon, and while prices generally are higher than those of the big supermarket chains, Mr Sham prides himself on offering good service and fresh food. His company, Consumer Republic, plans to open a second store next month, a 12,000 sq ft outlet at Redhill Peninsula, Tai Tam, after being approached by developer Paliburg Estate Agents. Seven more stores, catering to expats and overseas-returned Chinese clients are envisaged for Mid-Levels, Taikoo Shing, Causeway Bay, Kowloon and the New Territories. 'We've been looking for other sites besides Redhill, in Mid-levels, but there's always the question of feng shui ,' Mr Sham said. 'I have a feng shui master who accompanies me when I inspect sites, and so far, none has held up.' That might put a halt to his ambitions for a chain of 10 upscale supermarkets in the next couple of years, but not to his plans to raise his group's profile. Later this year, Consumer Republic will set up Texas Republic, a restaurant that will specialise in Texas-style cuisine, featuring barbecues and steaks. The group also is moving its office from Shun Tak Centre to a 27,000 sq ft site in Aberdeen's Hing Wai Centre that will include a 20,000 sq ft warehouse. This will allow the group to stock its own supplies, rather than rely on sub-contractors, a move Mr Sham says will allow it to reduce costs by 20-30 per cent, which can be passed on to customers as lower prices. Lower prices would help Market Republic attract customers from Wellcome supermarkets or Park'N Shop, mass-market stores that often come into direct competition with it. In recent months, Park'N Shop has undergone a territory-wide renovation of its stores, increasing space and moving towards a big-store concept similar to Market Republic. Park'N Shop at South Horizons covers about 20,000 square feet and is the largest on Hong Kong island. It counts a sushi bar among its offerings. For Mr Sham - who has degrees in medicine, engineering, accounting and business and was managing director of Pacific Capital Group - beating the big chains is his hardest job yet. 'We serve a niche market, but with stores that cater to the mass market [in our field] I am fighting an uphill battle everyday,' Mr Sham said. 'I welcome competition, but everyone needs their own style.'