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Youth sees money in funny business

A PARCEL delivery company featuring staff dressed up as clowns has proved popular with private customers in Shanghai and is now targeting the corporate market.

A wine company and several other businesses have already expressed interest in employing the company to deliver their goods to VIP consumers.

Xu Linqi, a college graduate, started the company at the end of last year and hopes to be in profit within the next few months.

"Clowns are popular in the West especially during big festivals," he says, "But we seldom see them here."

Xu first decided to open a performance company specializing in clown shows but changed his mind after his first successful bit of clown business.

It was Christmas Day last year. A young man had seen one of Xu's online ads offering clowns for hire and called to ask if a clown could deliver a bunch of roses to a girl.

Xu, in clown's outfit complete with big red nose, caused a sensation when he arrived at the girl's office with the flowers. Lots of people wanted their pictures taken with him and the girl was so pleased she is now his client's girlfriend.

Inspired, Xu made up his mind to specialize on deliveries. Since then, clowns have appear on the doorsteps of locals to deliver marriage anniversary gifts, birthday flowers and other surprises.

Born in Shaanxi Province in 1984, Xu went to a college in Jiangxi Province in 2003. After graduation, he worked as a technician and a salesman in state-owned and multinational companies.

"I learnt a lot, such as management and the structure of a successful company," he says.

Expert's advice:

Li Jun, instructor of Shanghai Technology Entrepreneurship Foundation for Graduates

The idea is easy to copy and when people get to know about it, the surprise element will no longer be there. Xu should create an image for his company and take out a patent, just as McDonald's has its unique clown image. The online sales side is totally different from the delivery business. Xu should focus on doing one thing at this time.

Q: Do you or your family have any experience of starting a business?

A: My father works in the grain transportation and sales business. He once lost a lot of money because his business failed and all his hair went grey almost at once, so he didn't want me to start my own business. But I have pursued the idea for a long time and in the end he gave me a little cash to support the business.

Q: What's your business plan?

A: We charge at least 80 yuan (US$11.70) for each delivery and we will charge more for long distance deliveries and in hot weather. I have launched a Website selling flowers, gifts and performance costumes.

Q: What have been the advantages and disadvantages of starting this business?

A: Young people always lack experience. But luckily, a "brother" 20 years older than me, who was doing the same thing as me, has joined our team. He brought lots of useful contacts and experience. I also have contacts at local universities, so it's easy to call on students to work part-time.


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