I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Chu. Her company, Black N Bianco, is dedicated to crafting memories the whole family will treasure.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started my apparel clothing business after being let go from my previous employment who sold similar products. I used my experience and connections to launch my own apparel clothing brand. Knowing how to speak Mandarin made the switch from employee to business owner a lot easier when it came to dealing with overseas Chinese manufacturers.
We know that it is not always easy for a foreigner to do business in China. Can you share an interesting story about a challenge that you faced, and how you overcame it?
Chinese manufacturers for the most part only want to work with big importers. Which means being a new small business limited our ability to find reliable and reputable Chinese manufacturers. It was very different trying to find a manufacturer who was willing to take a chance on my company and lower their MOQ. I overcame that hurdle through weeks of researching different manufacturers that were smaller, but had the capability of producing decent quality apparel goods. I had to meet them in person and pitch my brand, products and future potential of becoming a larger importer. Eventually I was able to find a few Chinese manufacturers who were willing to give my business an opportunity. I am very grateful for what they did, but I know they will sell me out in a instant if a larger competitor came to them to wanting to produce similar products. I am always on the hunt for backup manufactures, in case production stopped for my company.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Being in the apparel industry I am always looking to create something new or fresh. There are a few projects our team are working, but nothing has been set in stone yet.
What advice would you give to other business owners to help their employees to thrive?
Chinese manufacturers are resilient, tough and competitive. However they will put up a front of being humble, graceful and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure you are happy. They are used to be pushed around by large corporations demanding the lost cost of goods with slim profit margins and tight delivery dates. Do not underestimate their knowledge, experience and capability. Understand the Chinese mindset of business does not mean loyalty, because that will help your employees navigate the chinese manufacturer without additional stress or difficulties. It’s a completely different culture and understanding their mindset will make the process of importing a lot smoother.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Working in the apparel business for over a decade I gain a lot of great friendships in apparel industry. One of the friends I met was named Melissa. She was a importer like myself, but in a different apparel category. When I transitioned from employee to business owner she took me under her wings and walked me through the process of how to import from China. Her knowledge and experience really made the path to my success a lot easier. I am very grateful to have her as a friend and generosity.
What do you think are the new untapped markets in China that may become the next “big thing”?
Answer: The chinese has a huge growing middle class and I think the next big thing will be importing goods from other countries into CHINA. There are so many fakes it’s hard differentiate the real from the fake. Becoming a verified legitimate importer into China may be the next big untapped business in China.
We keep hearing about the “Trade War”. What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot?
Answer: I think the Trade War is detrimental to both economies. The unknown is very frighting for importers like myself. In order to not be affected by this trade war I started investing in manufacture outside of China. Even then, I still think the prices of our goods will increase due to a lot of fabrics are still imported from China.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Do Business In China.” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You must understand the industry terms and lingos. Every industry is different so it’s best to research what specs, information and files you need to provide before you speak to a Chinese manufacturer. Coming off as inexperienced will be detrimental to your negotiation power and quality control. I had personal first hand experience dealing with a manufacturer who were giving me outrageous prices because they thought I had no experience in the industry. The relationship was started off on the wrong foot and could not be amended because of Face.
- Which brings me to my second point, having Face in China is very important. In their society they place a great deal of importance on Face especially in business. It can be very difficult for Westerners to understand the specific rules relating to Face in China. The easiest way for me to explain what face means would be it represents a person’s reputation and feelings of credibility. You must never confront a Chinese person on their reputation because it will sour the relationship and make it virtually impossible to continue a business relationship. Business negotiations and maintenance of relationships will all be dependent on having face on both sides. Same can be said about the westerner if the Chinese manufacturer sees you lose face too many times they will disrespect you and your company. Face is big in China, the more you understand the etiquette the better you will be at doing business with China.
- Make sure you are ready. Do not waste the time of chinese manufacturers, if you don’t have all your ducks ready in a row to import your products don’t approach any manufacturers. Depending on your industry there may a handful of great and reliable Chinese manufacturers. If you attempt to start a relationship to early they may lose interest and view your company as a small fly and never respond to your corresponding emails in the future. I had this happen to me numerou times when I first started my business, and it took me a long time before I was able to find a good manufacturer who was capable of delivering quality products at a reasonable price.
- Never pressure a Chinese manufacturer for a lower price point. They are very good at accounting for what prices they can offer. If the price is workable and the manufacturer is reliable accept the terms. Chinese manufacturers are very good at price gouging and if you insist on a lower price they will give you a product a full of defects because they will cut corners to save the additional cost. If you have the capability to import at a national level with dozens of containers that is the only time you have the upper hand at asking for a lower price point without affecting the quality of your products.
- Maintaining a good business relationship is required, but understand there are no ethics or personal relationships in business. They will copy your products if other companies are interested in the same design. If you do not have a patent or unique trademark it will be copied in the US. Even if you did have a patent it will still be copied. It’s very very rare to find a manufacturer who is loyal to one company because they have to make their profits through lower margins and higher volumes. Try to protect your brand the best you can in the States and try not to spend too much energy and money on protecting overseas, unless you have the spare capitol to do so.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” — Confucius
That quote resonates with me so much because I was very fortunate to work in an industry that I love. Nothing brings me more happiness than be able to express myself through the designs that I create. Transitioning from designer to owning my own brand was always the ultimate goal. Being in the office 8–12 hours a day never feel like work to me, because I am not working, I am using my creativity to create something new. Seeing people adore my products is the ultimate joy in my life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Being a female minority business owner, I would inspire a movement to empower woman, but that is already being done remarkably well by amazing and talented successful female entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey and Clara Barton. They inspire me and are the true pioneers of this modern day generation.
Originally published at medium.com