Fashion retailer Giin Yong had her start in flea markets where four days of trading earned her more than a month of work. She quit her day job and has not looked back since, writes ZIEMAN.
Giin Yong is a veteran in retail fashion. Working for an OEM (overseas export manufacturer) company, she travelled the world over for exhibitions and met with customers like Wal-Mart, KMart, Meijer and Target. When work was done, she would shop for her own fashion needs.
In this way did Giin familiarise herself with the latest in fashion accessories, bags and such, until one day, she decided to strike out on her own. Today, she runs not one but two shops: Twinkle, for accessories, and As:Is for fashion apparels.
How did you start your fashion accessory business?
I worked for an OEM company that exports photo albums as the international regional manager for the US.
As part of my job, I had to travel to many places – Asia (including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore), Europe and the US – for exhibitions and to meet customers, among them Wal-Mart, KMart, Meijer, Target.
It was during these trips that I usually shopped for fashion stuff like fashion accessories, bags, shoes, clothes for my own use. When friends and colleagues saw what I was wearing, they would request that I get fashion stuff for them too. I had a lot of requests and orders. I would go with a half-empty suitcase and come back with two full suitcases full of goodies.
Later on, I started to sell what I purchased from overseas at the Mon’t Kiara flea market every Sunday. I was shocked at the response. There would be a crowd waiting patiently for me every Sunday to buy my new stocks. As time passed, I built a loyal following, and the rewards were fantastic.
The total sales I made from the flea market exceeded my salary at least three to four times. And that was only for four days of work!
Eventually, I decided to open an outlet. My first was a kiosk in Great Eastern Mall, and I later expanded and opened a shop in Amcorp Mall called Twinkle. I have been in this business for 12 years now.
How do you know what would be a hit with the customers?
I choose fashion accessories that I am attracted to or really like. In other words, the type of fashion accessories that I would wear. For popular and current trends, I will look at fashion magazines, the Internet, blogs, TV, media, and do market research a.k.a. window shopping, especially when I’m overseas.
In the end, most importantly, I trust my own fashion taste and style. I believe one must have an eye for fashion accessories.
How do you turn your passion for fashion into a successful business?
I know this sounds cliche but it’s true that you must have the passion and love for what you do. Fashion and art has always been my love and passion. Retail business is tiring because of the long hours but I don’t feel it’s a chore because I love what I’m doing.
Are there fundamental business pointers you would like to share?
Customer Service is VERY important. I treat my customers like friends. And I’ve got to say many of my customers became my good friends! And we train all staff to handle after-sales service. If there are problems with the products they’ve purchased (i.e. broken or missing some stones), we will try to fix it for them.
Be competitive especially in pricing and quality. You must know your market, learn what your customers want. You must be knowledgeable in your industry and be the first to know the fashion trends and fads.
How do you handle fashion trends and maintain a decent profit margin?
Fashion trends and fads come and go. One has to be alert on what are the latest trends, and I do follow closely the trends from the US and Europe. I read a lot of fashion magazines from the US. I check out the Internet and fashion blogs religiously.
I also go overseas on buying trips to check out the latest products from suppliers. So I seldom have ‘overstock’ problems. My strategy is not to overstock on any one design or item but to emphasise variety. This way, you create a kind of exclusiveness since the quantity is limited.
Hence I go on buying trips often, which I really enjoy. I also take part in bazaar promotions in different malls, and this is also a very good way to unload excess stocks.
Why are you hooked on fashion?
Fashion has always been my love and passion. I used to make my own jewellery and sell them. But now I just get them from Bangkok, Hong Kong, China, Korea and even from the US and Australia. Besides retail, I also do wholesale but most of my clients are people who do online businesses.
I just love unique and statement fashion accessories. I think this is my forte, especially bringing in the right statement necklaces, rings, bracelets and watches. I’ve also ventured into fashion apparels. “AS:IS” sells stuff from Australia, the US, Japan and Korea. These are branded clothes, and my motto is cheap, original, quality chic and fashionable. But it’s excess and off-season stuff, though.
Apart from fashion, what is your other love?
I love charity work that involves children. Now that I’m stable in my career, I want to spend the rest of my life helping them. That’s why 10 years ago, I joined Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur (KCKL), a member of Kiwanis International, a global organisation of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time.
I stopped for a while to concentrate on my career, but from last year, I became active again. Last April, I went to Siem Reap with nine other KCKL members.
There we helped out in a soup kitchen, Touch A Life, and also visited the Sambour Primary School, outside Siem Reap.
The experience has been an eye-opener and one that deeply touched my heart and soul.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I still see myself in fashion. It is what I love to do. Hopefully, I’ll expand overseas too. And I would like to spend more time with my family. I would love to do more community service for children. And perhaps learn to cook and become a Master Chef!
Hobby: Dancing, watching movies, listening to music and doing charity work.
Food: I love spicy food and all kinds of noodles.
Your Inspiration: Both my parents who inspired me to be charitable, humble and successful.