Heart and sole

God­dess founder tells of start­ing young and find­ing suc­cess with the help of un­wa­ver­ing per­sis­tence and a fo­cus on the ba­sics. So­phie He gets the story.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Wil­liam Wong Wai was just 25 when he set up God­dess In­ter­na­tional Ltd.

The slipper man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany es­tab­lished in 1994 now boasts its own brand and an­nual rev­enue of around HK$100 mil­lion.

Founder and chair­man Wong started from scratch. Af­ter drop­ping out of col­lege in Mel­bourne, Australia, in 1992, he re­turned to Hong Kong and worked for nearly three years at a Hong Kong-owned slipper fac­tory in Shen­zhen.

“The fac­tory was mak­ing leather house­hold slip­pers, and I was in charge of pur­chas­ing raw ma­te­ri­als from Chi­nese main­land sup­pli­ers,” Wong told China Daily. “That’s how I got familiar with man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­ce­dures.”

In 1994, then 25-year-old Wong de­cided to start his own busi­ness. De­spite his youth, he was very con­fi­dent from the start as he al­ready knew quite a few sup­pli­ers and sev­eral cus­tomers by that time. “How hard could it be,” he thought.

With HK$60,000 as cap­i­tal, made up of all of his sav­ings plus some money from his par­ents, Wong launched God­dess In­ter­na­tional Ltd.

Orig­i­nally, it was a trad­ing firm with Wong both the boss and only em­ployee.

He pur­chased slip­pers from main­land sup­pli­ers and sold to over­seas buy­ers.

“The firm al­most closed af­ter six months,” said Wong, as the HK$60,000 ran out very quickly af­ter he rented a small of­fice, paid de­posits and pur­chased of­fice sup­plies.

Four months later, Wong did not even have the money to pay rent for an­other month.

“But I was in­cred­i­bly lucky, as the land­lord of my of­fice, an old man who had been do­ing busi­ness in South Amer­ica for many years, be­came in­ter­ested in my prod­ucts when he came to the of­fice to col­lect rent.”

Wong’s land­lord was in­ter­ested in can­vas sneak­ers, so Wong pur­chased sev­eral con­tain­ers of sneaker in­ven­to­ries from dif­fer­ent sup­pli­ers for the land­lord to sell in South Amer­ica.

“My land­lord was kind enough to pay me up front as I didn’t have any money to pay the sup­pli­ers,” said Wong.

The deal ac­tu­ally saved Wong’s com­pany, as the money he earned from his land­lord helped God­dess sur­vive. Later, God­dess at­tended sev­eral ex­hi­bi­tions, got in touch with more clients from over­seas, and was fi­nally on track for its trad­ing busi­ness.

In the 1990s, many main­land State-owned en­ter­prises were un­der­go­ing ref­or­ma­tion that al­lowed them to co­op­er­ate with pri­vate com­pa­nies. God­dess tried to co­op­er­ate with a few fac­to­ries, but that did not work out too well.

“As th­ese fac­to­ries needed to get enough or­ders to sur­vive, they would take other jobs that some­times im­pacted the pro­duc­tion of our own or­ders,” Wong ex­plained.

Th­ese un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ences saw him make up his mind about open­ing his own slipper fac­tory. In 1997, Wong es­tab­lished a fac­tory in Chongqing with 17 work­ers, pro­duc­ing slip­pers mainly sent to buy­ers in the US.

Af­ter the com­pany started get­ting sta­ble or­ders, Wong moved the fac­tory to Dong­guan, Guang­dong prov­ince, and ex­panded its scale by hir­ing a to­tal of 100 work­ers.

Since then, God­dess has con­tin­ued to ex­pand and by 2003, the fac­tory al­ready had 700 work­ers. But dur­ing the eco­nomic down­turn caused by SARS, the fac­tory was scaled down to around 350 staff.

“At that time, I started to think that the way that we run fac­to­ries in Dong­guan may not last. On the one hand, costs in Guang­dong kept go­ing up, while on the other, most of our work­ers were not from Guang­dong — they had left their homes and trav­eled long dis­tances to work in Dong­guan,” said Wong, adding that he kept search­ing for a good place to re­lo­cate his fac­tory.

In 2002, Wong and a lo­cal part­ner opened a fac­tory in Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince.

The ven­ture went well, but along with eco­nomic growth in Suzhou, costs rose quickly and sur­passed those in Guangzhou. Wong gave up on the fac­tory af­ter a cou­ple of years.

Later, he also opened a fac­tory in Li­uzhou, the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion. As it is an in­land city, la­bor costs are not too high there. Wong also chose Li­uzhou as he be­lieves that work­ers in the city, es­pe­cially fe­male work­ers, could work near their home.

But the re­sults were un­sat­is­fac­tory, as work­ers in Li­uzhou lacked skills as well as ef­fi­ciency, com­pared with those in Dong­guan. This sig­nif­i­cantly im­pacted the com­pany’s out­put, ac­cord­ing to Wong.

Fi­nally, at the end of 2011, the God­dess fac­tory was moved to Yun­yang in Chongqing, with around 300 work­ers.

Last year, God­dess pur­chased a plot in Sichuan prov­ince and started to build a plant, with 800 to 1,200 work­ers ex­pected to be hired af­ter it is com­pleted.

In ad­di­tion to ex­plor­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, Wong is also keen on grow­ing in the re­tail sec­tor.

“I be­lieve that man­u­fac­tur­ing alone can­not spell suc­cess,” said Wong. He con­sid­ers 2002 as a turn­ing point for the com­pany, as that was the year God­dess co­op­er­ated with an Aus­tralian fam­ily firm and reg­is­tered the slipper brand “Betta” on the Chi­nese main­land.

Since 2002, God­dess has pro­duced its own slip­pers un­der the “Betta” brand and sold through re­tail chan­nels.

Its re­tail busi­ness has been suc­cess­ful in Hong Kong, where the slip­pers are sell­ing at HK$100 to HK$200 a pair at Francfranc, Wing On, Goods of De­sire as well as De­sign Gallery.

But un­for­tu­nately, things have not been go­ing too well on the main­land.

Af­ter try­ing to sell its slip­pers in ma­jor shop­ping malls and then sell­ing them through ma­jor su­per­mar­ket chains like Car­refour, Wal­mart and China Re­sources Vanguard, God­dess this year has de­cided to pull out of th­ese chan­nels and fo­cus on sell­ing through e-com­merce plat­form Tmall.com.

“As a man­u­fac­turer, I can say that it is not easy to make the switch to be­com­ing a re­tailer,” said Wong. “Af­ter so many years in the re­tail in­dus­try, I am still learn­ing, about mar­ket­ing skills, about how to build and op­er­ate our own brand ... (there is) so much to learn about re­tail.” Con­tact the writer at so­phiehe@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Wil­liam Wong Wai, founder and chair­man of God­dess In­ter­na­tional Ltd, re­al­ized that the re­tail mar­ket is a to­tally dif­fer­ent ball game and so co-founded the Fed­er­a­tion of Hong Kong Brands to help small- and medium-sized lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers ex­plore their op­por­tu­ni­ties.

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