Vanee Kung is a graduate of economics and finance, but unlike most of her classmates who pursued promising jobs in the banking and finance industry, she embarked on a career in the beauty industry instead.
With her unique market sense and exceptional sense for beauty products, she began to import brands that were not available in Hong Kong. Her speciality quality products fit in perfectly with locals who are forever keen to try new things.
At the age of 27, she founded KCT Global (Holdings), a company that imports and distributes beauty products.
Kung this year won the Innovative Entrepreneur Award organised by the Junior Chamber International Hong Kong for her outstanding achievements as an entrepreneur.
How did you end up in the beauty products industry?
I knew very little about make-up or skin care until I left school. It was at work, when I saw how pretty my colleagues looked wearing make-up, that my interest in beauty products began.
I became a keen follower of the latest beauty products and their reviews on the internet and in magazines. I feel so lucky to have been able to transform a personal interest into a career.
How did you start your business?
I found that some beauty products were in huge demand in Hong Kong, but that local retailers did not sell them. I saw a business opportunity, so I began to approach foreign brand names to request collaborating with them.
Their response was fairly positive so I started importing and distributing products at several places around Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia.
My initial investment was to rent a warehouse to store the stock.
I am a computer dummy, but in order to save money, I learned to use Dreamweaver and built a website for the company.
What were the main obstacles you had to overcome?
For a nobody like me, approaching big brand names to ask them to collaborate was a tall order. I was nervous about this but told myself that there was no harm in trying. It wasn't going to be the end of the world if they rejected me.
When I approach brands, I try to put myself into their shoes, and to think about the added value that I can bring. This mindset has proved very effective in negotiating. I also prepare thoroughly, presenting up-to-date research on market trends in Hong Kong to assure them that they can profit from working with me. I started being the agent of one brand, and now have 15 brands and an annual turnover of HK$10 million.
How do you stay competitive vis-à-vis the big retailers?
I am flexible. It is a complicated and time-consuming process for the big retailers to bring in new products, whereas I can do this quickly. Local consumers lust after European brands but this is not enough. I look up product reviews to make sure they are of high quality. Having a celebrity user is always a plus.
What are your future goals?
I am the sole agent of 15 brands with more than 400 distribution points in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. The mainland market is huge, and television shopping has become popular. I plan to expand my business in that direction. I am also developing my own line of products.
What is your advice for young people wanting to start their own business?
Dare to succeed, but be patient. Things don't happen overnight. The reputation of a business takes time to establish and there are no short cuts. Big budget advertising is not necessarily the best way to promote yourself. Build a good reputation [for your company] and people will get to know you through recommendations.