K-pop spurs sales of Korean cosmetic products for Hong Kong business
Fion Ipp Fung-ying does not speak Korean but she has brought some of the most popular Korean cosmetic brands such as Sulwhasoo, Laneige and Amorepacific to Hong Kong since 2001.
Ipp, the founder and managing director of Amorepacific Hong Kong, believes a woman has an advantage in setting up a cosmetic distribution business.
“I am a woman and I am very concerned about skin care and make-up myself. I think doing a cosmetic business is very relevant to my personal interests,” she told the South China Morning Post in an interview at her office at Causeway Bay.
The fourth of five children, Ipp grew up and was educated in Hong Kong to a family of entrepreneurs as her father ran a small business distributing photo frames to retail shops.
Ipp helped by doing cold calls and selling the photo frames when she studied at the Chinese University for a degree in business management. The experience planted the seed in putting up her own business.
After graduating from university, she worked in business development in US personal care product giant Procter & Gamble’s Guangzhou office for a few years in the early 1990s before joining an e-commerce company in Guangzhou.
After getting married in 2001, she decided to come back to Hong Kong and felt it was time to set up her own business.
“After doing some research, I found the Hong Kong market has strong demand in cosmetic and skin care products as it is not only Hong Kong people who bought these products. There are thousands of tourists who like to fill their luggage with face cream, eye shadow, lipsticks and other products as there are a lot of product choices and it is tax free here,” she said.
Mainland tourists are believed to have spent HK$170 billion in Hong Kong in 2013, according to a Legislative Council paper. Cosmetics, skincare products, clothing, food, medicine and Chinese herbal medicine topped their shopping lists, a survey from the Hong Kong Tourism Board found.
Ipp also found that while the skin care and cosmetic markets are dominated by French, US and Japanese brands, there were no Korean brands here back then.
‘I found it very strange because the K-pop culture, including the Korean singers and Korean TV shows is already very popular among Hongkongers but there were no Korean beauty brands here,” she said.
Further research led her to discover that Amorepacific has been the largest cosmetic company in South Korea for decades where it has over 30 different popular brands but it has no distributor in Hong Kong.
“I found this a good opportunity for me to cold call it. I can sell pretty well when I had to cold call the retail shops to sell the photo frames when I was a student. I think I can also try to cold call Amorepacific to be its distributor in Hong Kong,” she recalled.
Ipp hired a translator to present her business plan to the South Korean company on the potential of selling its products to Hong Kong.
“Amorepacific wanted to find a right partner to sell its products in Hong Kong. After listening to my presentation, they accepted and appointed me as the sole distributor for their products,” she said.
She founded Amorepacific’s Hong Kong office and first brought over the brand Laneige, a mid-tier priced product for young ladies in May 2002. It became an instant success.
She then introduced the more deluxe brand Sulwhasoo, Etude House and Amorepacific. Her company has expanded from a few people to over 600 staff.
“I am lucky that I am bringing the right products at the right time. The K-pop culture has been popular in the past decade. Korean singers and actors have very good skin and make up and that helped sell our products,” she said.
She also credited the support of Amorepacific over the past 15 years.
While mainland Chinese tourists may have cut down and the economy there has weakened considerably, Ipp remains positive about the outlook.
‘Women need skin care products under any economic cycle as that is part of the essential daily products for women. When the economy is bad, they would not give up buying cosmetic products but may only buy the products which are more value for money,” she said.
For entrepreneurs, she feels the challenges come on a daily basis.
“For anyone who wants to set up their business, they need to prepare for challenging times in any economic cycle. When the economy is good, rents may be higher and we have to pay more to compete for good staff. When the economy is bad, we need to think of promotions to attract clients,” Ipp said.
“I always believe by working hard and adopting a good management system, we can be successful in our business any time. Hong Kong is a very good place to set up your own business as the tax rate is low and the banking system is very effective.”
Then there is the matter of balancing work and family as she and her husband have to raise two sons ages six and eight years old.
“My strategy is putting in the time with my sons in my daily working schedules. I would fixed times to have lunch and to join their school events whenever I can. To me, a meeting with my sons are just as important as meeting with my business partners,” she said.