Products are mundane, results lofty

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Products are mundane, results lofty

Sometimes you don't need a brilliant new idea to get rich. Business can bloom from existing ideas. Ask Carol Choi.

Last month, the government gave Ms. Choi's company, United Exchange Corporation Korea, an award for excellence after the total value of the firm's exports for the year exceeded $10 million. The company doesn't ship electronic goods or anything comparably high-tech. It mostly exports simple, everyday products, such as soap and toothpaste, to markets such as the United States.

In fact Ms. Choi, 39, is called the "Toothpaste Lady" by people in her industry because toothpaste was her company's most important seller in its early days. Now the company ships a broad range of products, such as tissues, liquid soap and condiments. While some items the company exports are made at the company's factory, the company buys most of them from manufacturers like LG, then repackages them according to the foreign buyers' specifications.

"One reason I got into the business of little items is because people use them everyday on a regular basis until they go to sleep," Ms. Choi says. "There are no trends to follow and most of the items are easy to store and easy to convert to cash."

Ms. Choi stands by a few principles. One rule she strictly enforces is that she handles most of her company's deals on her own -- although she is the chief of the company, she considers herself its most important salesperson as well. "What others may take two weeks to do I can do in three days, because I do most of the deals myself instead of having someone do them for me," Ms. Choi said. "In the distribution industry, speed is the most important thing."

Ms. Choi is also careful to maintain the trust of her clients. In April she discovered that some of her products that were due to be sent to a small company had some quality problems. One whole container of the products had to be scrapped. In emergency mode, the company purchased replacement goods from a different supplier, then spent $35,000 to expedite delivery of goods worth only $20,000 in order to meet the promised delivery date. "I lost money but I kept my relationship with the client, and that is the crucial thing to me," she said. "Nothing comes cheap when you are keeping a promise with a client."

Still, while prompt deliveries are key, Ms. Choi says she would never compromise quality by rushing things. "I always need to give an impression that quality products are delivered," she said. "I won't commit myself to a transaction unless I am 100 percent sure that I can give that impression."

by Kim Hong-gyun

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