SHANGHAI IS A TOUGH nut to crack for retailers. Department stores and boutiques open and close as fast as changes in the fashion business. Many foreign players have left with big holes in their pockets, burned by the city's 18 million fickle consumers. But on this casualty-littered battleground there is at least one success story - Wang Te-ming, who set up the first Taiwan-style department store in Shanghai a decade ago. Applying marketing ideas that had worked at home, Mr Wang in 1992 began building a department store chain from scratch and has made it the most popular in Shanghai. Having turned the Pacific Department Store into a national brand with nine stores and sales of 4.5 billion yuan in 2002, Mr Wang found himself a victim of corporate changes and decided to leave what he had created. Now 55, he is starting all over again with a new company and plans to open 10 stores by 2009. Will Mr Wang make it again or is he just a one-hit wonder? Mr Wang, a showman who talks at a machine-gun clip, is taking no chances. 'I am a workaholic. I have no children and no hobbies. I take no exercise and work from morning until night. I have not been back to see my parents in Taiwan during the Lunar New Year for 12 years,' he said. Mr Wang is typical of many Taiwanese businessmen who decided their home market was saturated and moved to the mainland to seek their fortune and exploit opportunities that no longer exist in Taiwan. 'The retail market in China is far from saturated,' he said. 'Income levels are still low compared to those in advanced countries. For the next 10 to 20 years, the whole world is going to invest in China ... It has the biggest demand in the world, cheapest labour and cheap water and electricity.' Born in Nanjing in 1948, Mr Wang had an upbringing common to many middle-class people now living in Taiwan. In 1949 his father, a dean at a middle school under the Central University, was sent to Taiwan as a senior supervisor of the Nationalist government's education bureau, several months before Chiang Kai-shek and his routed forces fled to the island. Mr Wang attended primary and secondary school in Taiwan, studied mathematics at university and served one year of compulsory military service. His first job was with Lien Kwang, Taiwan's biggest advertising company, where he worked for 15 years, handling accounts for customers such as British American Tobacco, Japan Airlines and ICI. When his chief executive left in 1987, Mr Wang decided to move too. He joined Pacific Department Store - one of his clients - as chief of its planning division. Pessimistic over growth prospects in Taiwan, he began to explore the mainland market. He was then put in charge of mainland operations and opened Pacific's first two mainland stores in December 1992, in Chengdu and Shanghai, where it was only the third foreign-invested department store after Taiwan rival Chung Hsing and Japan's Isetan. To comply with Taiwan law, the company had to make the investment through a Hong Kong investment vehicle. Mr Wang chose Xujiahui as the site for the Shanghai store. Though not a prime commercial district in 1992, Xujiahui had been slated as the location for one of Shanghai's biggest underground railway stations. The choice was obvious to any retailer with experience of big Asian cities, but not to many local retailers, who continued to crowd into the traditional shopping areas along Nanjing and Huai Hai roads. Another element of Mr Wang's strategy was to target the city's young middle class - aged 18 to 35 - who had higher disposable incomes and were willing to pay more for higher-quality goods. In the early 1990s, Shanghai department stores were general merchandise shops with products for every age and taste. The goods were piled up behind cramped counters, with limited space for the shopper to browse at leisure. It was the old way of selling in the planned economy and worked because supply shortages were chronic. Pacific's stores offered a new experience - brightly lit counters with attractive displays and young salesgirls eager to help customers. In the basement there was a supermarket and fast-food area. It was to prove a popular temporary dumping ground for women shoppers' bored husbands or boyfriends. Mr Wang's other focus was local sourcing. 'In the beginning, most of the goods came from Taiwan but later most came from joint ventures in China,' he said. The formula worked. In 1993, the store ranked sixth in sales among department stores in Shanghai. By 1997 it was first. Pacific opened a second Shanghai store on Huai Hai Road and a third near the new railway station. Farther afield, it also opened more stores in Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing and Dalian. Sales at the nine Pacific stores nationwide reached 4.5 billion yuan in 2002. The three Shanghai stores ranked first in the city with sales of 2.6 billion yuan - 14 times the volume achieved in 1993, Pacific's first full year of operations. 'We defeated Isetan and we defeated Chung Hsing. Isetan has been losing money since it opened and has changed its general manager five times and Chung Hsing closed in 1999,' Mr Wang said. But Pacific's parent company in Taiwan faced bankruptcy because of failed property investments. For months uncertainty gripped the staff as they waited to hear who, if anyone, would take over the company. The buyer would have had to come up with NT$10 billion (HK$2.31 billion). Eventually, Mr Wang and his team lost patience and left the company in May 2002. In the end, the buyer turned out to be Taiwan's Far East Group. 'If I had known it was going to be [Far East], I would have stayed,' Mr Wang said. He was then approached by Wang Jianlin, one of China's biggest property developers and chairman of the Wanda group, which wanted to establish its Da Yang chain of department stores. Mr Wang was appointed chief executive of the new venture and threw himself into the job with his customary enthusiasm, opening six stores in eight months. But then in October last year, Wanda suddenly sold its majority shareholding in the company, apparently because it had changed its mind and decided to focus on property development. Stunned, Mr Wang resigned and set up his own investment company with capital of 30 million yuan. On December 31, he announced a joint venture with a listed company in Chengdu that would this year open two department stores - one aimed at the blue-collar market and the other at the top end of the market. The plan is to open five of each in the next five years. The new company will start formal operations in May and open its first store, in Chongqing, in October. Mr Wang said the capital required for 10 stores, using rented property, was about 200 million yuan and the new company had half of that. He owns 25 per cent of the joint venture. If he needs business advice, he can ask his wife, Susan Pan, who owns 50 per cent of Tayohya, one of China's biggest suppliers of domestic goods with 400 outlets in 95 cities. In Taiwan, his parents, brother and sister are members of the Nationalist party. His father used to hold an administrative position in the party. But this enthusiasm for the party is not shared by Mr Wang. 'I am a five-star Taiwanese investor,' he said with a smile. 'Every day I say 'Long Live the Communist Party' - even in my dreams.' 'We defeated Isetan and Chung Hsing. Isetan has been losing money since it opened ... Chung Hsing closed in 1999' Biography Wang Te-ming was born in 1948 in Nanjing, where his father worked for the Nationalist government. A year later the family moved to Taiwan. After studying mathematics at university and compulsory military service, he joined Lien Kwang, Taiwan's biggest advertising agency. In 1987 he joined the Pacific Department Store, where he headed the company's mainland operations and opened its first stores in Shanghai and Chengdu in 1992. Mr Wang left Pacific in May 2002 and became chief executive of Da Yang Department Stores, which had been established by a mainland property developer. Last October he established his own investment firm.