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July 5, 2017

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Upstairs, downstairs: culture and business

BAOKU China, which operates the world’s largest non-bank underground safety vault for collections of artworks and artifacts, has pioneered a business model mixing treasure and culture.

Baoku, which in Chinese means “treasure house,” is located in the Lujiazui financial district in the 137-story Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building.

The treasure vault is 25 meters underground. Up above on the 37th floor, Baoku China operates the Shanghai Guanfu Museum and the Baoku Art Center.

“It’s the first of its kind in the world,” Wu Hao, Baoku China’s vice president, told Shanghai Daily.

“We have established an ecosystem of culture and collection, covering trade, storage and exhibition to address the public’s need for spiritual pursuit and provide the best place for art collections or private goods.”

One might think only customers who want to store gold, cash, antiques and artworks buy one of the 18,000 secure boxes in the vault, but Baoku’s underground storage also attracts less well-heeled clientele. Some rather more ordinary people buy the boxes to preserve sentimental items.

One mother, interviewed on a Shanghai TV station, said she has a safety box there to store memories for her children — pictures of them at birth, toys they played with growing up.

Other users store items like love letters, heirloom jewelry, photos, children’s first paintings and pens they used in college entrance exams.

Baoku Treasure, the underground vault, sold out its first group of 10,000 safety deposit boxes after it opened in March 2016. Another 8,000 boxes have been made available.

The boxes are priced starting from 12 yuan (US$1.70) a day, or US$10,000 for 15 years.

The 7,000-square-meter underground vault is equipped with round-the-clock security guards and security systems more sophisticated than those in bank vaults. Its technological environmental controls ensuring that precious art is stored under optimum conditions have led it to become the first third-party storage service supplier certified by Underwriters Laboratories outside the US.

Wu said the facility is a service to people, especially collectors, who have valuable items to store.

As a perk to customers, Baoku China offers them free entry to the Shanghai Guanfu Museum, located on the 37th floor.

The museum is a branch of Guanfu Museum, founded in Beijing in 1997 by legendary collector and Baoku co-founder Ma Weidu. It is considered one of the finest private museums in China.

The Shanghai museum features five exhibition halls, displaying rare Chinese ceramics, Buddha sculptures, golden ornaments and ancient Chinese furniture. Exhibitions such as the “East- West Gallery” document exchanges between ancient China and the outside world.

Besides the museum, Baoku also operates an online auction app called Kupai and the Baoku Art Center, which features the reproduction of a Ming Dynasty garden and a 480-square-meter ballroom with an enamel floor.

“We have created an innovative model combining culture and business,” Wu Hao said.

Shanghai-based Baoku China said it plans to replicate its business model in other parts of China. The company also has a treasure vault in Hong Kong and plans to open a similar project in Shenzhen later this year. A site in Beijing is also in the planning.

The business model is also expanding into wealthy residential communities, including an ongoing vault service and art project in the Pudong New Area.

“Residents want safety deposit boxes and art experiences in their local communities,” Wu said. Among those involved in the community expansion is Zhou Xin, a Baoku shareholder and chairman of real estate holding company E-house China.

(Sun Yihao also contributed to this story)


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