Whether it was at the corner bar or in the beauty aisle of the supermarket, you’ve probably seen those little towelette packages.
What do you think about when you see those little square packets? Hot wings? Barbecue? Your 2-year-old nephew eating spaghetti? How about moving halfway across the world to pursue a dream?
Diamond Wipes International (DWI) may not be your typical bar talk, but it’s the quintessential story about immigration -- someone comes to the U.S. with nothing, seeking a better life for their family, and through hard work and determination, becomes successful.
Eve Yen, CEO of DWI, came to the U.S. from Taiwan in 1994 so her daughter could receive a better education.
She started out with one machine in a 1700 sq ft. facility making microwavable hot wipes. Her company now has a 100,000 sq ft. building and produces over 1 million towelettes per day.
Although those towelettes are more or less ubiquitous now, that was not always the case.
Yen had worked with a Chinese distributor of microwavable towelettes in Taiwan, and when she moved to the United States, she brought the idea with her, recognizing that there was a market for it.
When she first arrived in the U.S., Yen had little knowledge of how to do business in America. The majority of what she learned about business here was gained via a process of trial and error.
She started by selling the microwavable wipes to chains. Then she added makeup remover wipes and shoe shine to her product line in 1996. In 1999, she moved into contract packaging, which is now the company’s fastest growing sector.
As DWI continues to grow, her first customer remains the company’s number one customer, and she still has her very first sales person on staff.
However, now that the economy is slumping, consumer spending is sluggish and prices are rising, it may be hard to keep your head above water, particularly if you are a small manufacturer.
“Rising raw materials costs certainly make doing business more difficult, but I feel that if you are creative enough, and willing to work hard enough, you can be successful here,” Yen said.
Yen suggests companies add extra value to their products by offering additional services, such as making upscale or more environmentally friendly packaging.
“We want to be a full line, turnkey, one-stop shop for our customers,” Yen said.
And you can use those additional service offerings should you decide to pass some of your extra costs onto the customer via product price increases.
“You can justify price increases because you are offering additional benefits to the client that a competitor can’t,” Yen said.
She uses her research and development team to brainstorm suggestions for improving products that the customer may not have thought of or been able to visualize on their own.
“The trial and error I’ve been through helps me understand the customer and their needs, and it helps keep them from spending their money on the same type of trial and error,” Yen said. “For a little bit extra in terms of cost, you can create a product that is 30 to 50 percent better.”
Yen says companies should also analyze their costs and find ways to cut back whenever possible by becoming more efficient. And for those who may be just starting out, Yen stresses perseverance.
“The best advice I would give new entrepreneurs is to be brave and persistent,” Yen added. “It is best to stay focused on your end goal and work hard to get there.”
Yen has stayed true to her goal to keep her business in the U.S.
She said that she “believes in the ‘Made in U.S.A.’ label and in the immigrants, families and entrepreneurs that stand behind it.”
While other companies are outsourcing to whatever low-cost countries they can find, Yen is sticking with the United States and working to keep jobs here.
“The biggest pro to doing business in the U.S. is that America is so large and the markets are so big that there is enough business even for small new startups,” Yen said.
However, she also cautions that that immense size has a downside.
“To penetrate the market, new entrepreneurs need a lot more capital and time than they anticipate, which is why setting goals is so important,” Yen added. “There are opportunities if you’re persistent.”