Baby products turn out to be a lucrative venture for firm's founder who plans further expansion once economy recovers Nobody can deny that Hong Kong is full of opportunities for entrepreneurs. If you have a sharp mind for marketing and a strong disposition, success can be achieved, especially when the right opportunity presents itself at the right time. Eugene Yau Kam, the founder and chief executive of Eugene Group, which has interests in the publication, retail and exhibition sectors, targeted the niche market of parents and their babies from the outset. Mr Yau, who trained professionally as a graphic designer, opened his own printing company in 1983 in Hong Kong but worked mainly with companies across the border and commuted frequently between Hong Kong and the mainland. Making the most of the ample business opportunities that emerged from China's open-door policy to attract foreign investment in the 1980s, he earned his fortune in the late '80s, which provided him with sufficient financial backing to expand his business. 1988 was a pivotal year for Mr Yau, who changed the focus of his business to concentrate on the Hong Kong market and created his first parenting magazine, Ours mama and baby, which provided parents and parents-to-be with expert views and information on how to nurse babies and raise children. 'Other than our own editorial work, I also adapted some stories and photos to suit the local market from leading baby magazines in Japan and Taiwan,' he said. 'At that time there was no similar magazine in the market, which helped [us] broaden the readership. Later due to greater demand from advertisers and readers, we split the magazine into four publications: Ours mama and baby, Parents, Pre-school and Pregnancy in 1992, 2001 and 2002 to address the specific parenting needs of readers at different stages.' Spurred on to more challenges by a seemingly endless supply of ambition and energy, he spotted a further opening in the market for baby products. In 1991, he opened his first retail shop spanning 3,000 sqft in a commercial building in Quarry Bay. 'To me, it was an experiment to test the market response, but the idea turned out really well, and it further boosted my confidence to open a second retail outlet a year later in Mong Kok,' he said. 'I can still remember the sales on the first day were so impressive that they hit more than HK$200,000.' Baby products were in great demand during the early '90s. This gave Mr Yau the impetus to open more retail outlets in the next few years. 'The economy in those years was pretty vibrant and the birth rate was on the rise, which created a huge demand for baby products,' said Mr Yau, a father of two. At one stage the group operated 10 retail stores until the intervention of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. It runs six stores these days. Mr Yau attributes the success of the exhibition part of the business to pure luck. In 1990, Cityplaza in Taikoo Shing offered the group an enticing proposal when it suggested it organise regular events in the hope of helping to draw traffic to the shopping complex as part of a three-year deal. In return, the rental fee was waived. 'It was such a pleasant surprise and that really helped raise brand awareness over the period,' he said. 'We organised the first baby crawling competition at the mall and the response was overwhelming.' When the lease expired in 1993, Mr Yau decided to continue with his event management business in view of the success of organising and managing a slew of events for babies and parents - but at a different venue. 'We tried the exhibition centre at the China Resources Building in Wan Chai and later moved to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre when it opened in 1997 for a bigger space,' he said. As the market continued to see substantial demand for baby products, Mr Yau and his team recruited suppliers from all over the world, and the number of booths rose from 100 to more than 350 this year. The group runs two exhibitions a year, including the International Babies and Children Products Expo, which are usually held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in August. 'I am happy with the result, and the hard work from everyone in the company has paid off,' he said. 'I am particularly proud of our retail business. We carry more than 150 brands of baby products and 90 of them are sourced from around the world.' He is optimistic about the prospects for his baby kingdom despite the economic downturn. 'I may even consider expanding the children furniture business once the weakening economy is back on its feet again,' he said. Eugene Group comprises 200 staff, excluding part-time retail salespeople, for the entire business. There are six retail outlets across Hong Kong, including the 20,000 sq ft flagship store at MegaBox in Kowloon Bay which opened in 2007. 10 things I know 1 Seize the opportunity In the business world, opportunity does not come by easily. But once I have identified and evaluated the potential and risk factors I am comfortable with, it is worthwhile for me to pursue it even though I may not have a 100 per cent chance of winning. 2 Develop good marketing insights This is a very important personal attribute which any entrepreneur should have in running a business. Such business skills can help the person to determine the potential of the business and to invest accordingly. 3 Value teamwork I have not seen any business that can run successfully without good teamwork which is key to success. When I began my business with just a few people in 1983, I stressed the value of teamwork and gradually grew the group to its present size. I believe everyone has their own strengths and when they work as a team, I expect nothing else but good results. 4 Empower staff Good experience is what makes a person become a leader. As I am running a group of businesses I have no choice but to rely on my team leaders to help drive the businesses. I give them full autonomy to run their departments the way they see fit, but when it comes to a critical decision or a problem we all sit down and discuss it. 5 Appreciate quality staff Good employees are the pillars of any successful business. I believe talented people with high productivity should be rewarded properly, and I make sure that happens in my company too. 6 Know what your customers want Choosing the right baby products for my retail chain stores is quite a challenge, so I need to know what my customers want and select items accordingly. 7 Offer staff the right training Because we have more than 190 brands from around the world, it is paramount for all our salespeople to have a good understanding of what they are selling through training so they can easily explain this to customers later. 8 Keep staff happy The company would not have grown to its present size without the staff who have been with me for many years. I always encourage my staff to talk frankly to me, so they know that their views are not being ignored. 9 Nourish creative minds I am running a nexus of businesses that requires tremendous creativity to keep my customers happy. Besides relying on my teams for good ideas, I also try to read as much as I can to seek inspiration. 10 Preserve your brand It takes a lot of time and money to build a solid brand, which represents the quality of the company or its products. I have spent more than 20 years building mine, and I will continue to do all I can to keep it strong.