Pamela and William set out to quench the thirst of Shanghai, one bottle at a time, by starting Dou Ji Artisanal Beverages. Here is their Merchant story.
Like many other couples, Pamela Poon and William Ng had to postpone their wedding in 2020. Unlike other couples, they chose to channel their disappointment and energy into carving out a new opportunity in Shanghai, Dou Ji Artisanal Beverages: 斗记极度天然.
Hailing from Hong Kong, Pamela initially started making traditional Cantonese-style dessert soups for her colleagues out of goodwill and to also test the market. Feedback from them made her realise that she needed to create more product differentiation. “Our colleagues were telling us that although they were tasty, there was nothing special about our dessert soups [and it would not stand out from others on the market],” says Pamela. Thus, the couple headed back to the drawing board. Pamela had a brainwave to start modernising these traditional brewed drinks to appeal to the younger generation.
“After Pam started experimenting with these traditional recipes, she came up with jelly items, such as sea coconut brewed with carrots. This is a fairly traditional dessert soup, but in a jelly form, it really piqued the interest of our test audience – our colleagues and friends. That’s how we really got started,” says William.
Realising they’ve caught lightning in a bottle, the couple started to devote more time into developing Dou Ji Artisanal Beverages to create a viable start-up, all while working at their full-time jobs.
With Singapore-born William working in a large chain hotel group and Pamela’s job as an accountant, the couple applied their experience gained from their day jobs into their side hustle – with him using his hospitality skills to handle customers and Pamela overlooking the P&L.
The couple currently brews the drinks in small batches out of their home kitchen, working well past midnight to ensure that customers receive their drinks the next day. They make an average of 12 to 15 bottles a day. Pamela says: “Even until today, we are brewing our dessert drinks after a long day at work to make our orders. It is a tiring process, but we treasure every moment of it!”
“Of course, it is tough to work together as I tend to overthink things whereas Pam is cooler and more decisive. We’ve argued many times over the business but at the end of the day, we really appreciate each other’s skillset and have learnt to work with one another,” William adds with a smile.
The couple first launched Dou Ji’s online store in a free website host but soon realised that it had a bad user interface that interfered with customer purchases. Pamela adds: “After seeing some pick up to the business, we felt that the initial site did not seem legitimate if we wanted to be taken seriously. So, slowly but surely, we moved on to its current Mini-Program on WeChat.”
With a Little Help From Friends: Dou Ji Reaches New Heights
Encouraged by friends and family, the couple took the plunge and started Dou Ji’s Mini-Program on WeChat offering deliveries and takeaways. “We are very grateful to our loved ones for their support. They were like ‘Don’t worry about the cost or anything, just go for it!’ and they chipped in to help raise capital. It’s because of them that we are here today,” says William.
After Pamela put together a small menu retailing her newfangled dessert drinks, friends and family flocked to purchase them. Slowly word spread organically, and they soon hit their 100th sale in a short period of time. From this supportive network, a milestone opportunity to supply for a corporate event came about which the couple seized immediately. “One of our friends introduced us to someone who worked at Canon. After she tried our drinks, she recommended us to cater for their upcoming event. That turned out to be a dual effort by Canon and Douyin (Chinese TikTok), that was an accomplishment for us,” William says with pride.
Dou Ji currently retails youthful, bottled dessert drinks such as Taro Egg White, Butterfly Pea with jellied peach gum that comes in photo-worthy pastel shades of lavender and blue, as well as more traditional recipes such as red date and longan concoctions.
The cutesy packaging – designed by Pamela’s friend in France – features cartoon illustrations, whimsical names and reusable bottles. The drinks are then placed in categories detailing their health benefits and key ingredients for consumers to make an informed decision about what they are consuming.
“The younger generation in China these days are getting more health-conscious. They look for beverages with no added sugar and other rejuvenating properties, but they still want to look trendy and hip. Hence, we gave these traditional drinks and updated look with its modern packaging, much like bubble tea without all the additives. It’s a happy combination which has worked so far,” he continues. The brand’s timely entry filled a gap in the market that suits both the millennials and Generation Zs in China.
Dou Ji’s Path To Success
Since its inception in mid-2020, Dou Ji has participated in many pop-ups at various shopping centres and events retailing its beverages. At these events, customers are encouraged to scan the WeChat QR code to their Mini-Program, which in turn creates more eyeballs and potential repeat customers.
But it was not always smooth sailing, William relates: “As these drinks take many hours to brew and we only make them fresh to order, our business runs on a pre-order basis via the Mini-Program. However, in a country where everything can be ordered and delivered immediately, there were instances of customers being frustrated by this system, but this is a chance for us to explain and educate them about our products more [which helps us build more brand awareness].”
With a majority of businesses going online-only since the pandemic, Pamela and William bucked the trend by opening Dou Ji’s first physical store. Even then, it was a major feat to lease a space as in a highly competitive market such as Shanghai, good locations get snapped up in a jiffy. After three months of searching, Dou Ji is now set to open its doors in late January in the Jing An District of Shanghai. Dou Ji is also starting a small lifestyle arm retailing handmade goods, they intend to sell these alongside their beverages in the physical store.
Next Up for Dou Ji
William says: “If it were up to me, I would have given up on finding a space and just stuck to doing the Mini-Program, but Pam’s determination won me over [laughs].”
Dou Ji is also starting a small lifestyle arm retailing handmade goods, they intend to sell these alongside their beverages in the physical store. Pamela continues: “It is my dream to own a concept like this where people can sit and enjoy the drinks and shop for other products such as candles and accessories, so why not finish what we started?”
Scan Dou Ji’s Mini-Program on WeChat here:
Dou Ji Artisanal Beverages will be located at Chang Le Road, 688 Shanghai, Jing An District.
This post is part of our CandyBar Merchant Stories series where we chat to real businesses to learn about their struggles towards success. We hope it inspires you in your own endeavours. Read more from the series here.