When Eve Yen arrived in the United States 20 years ago from Taiwan, she wasn’t thinking about building a multimillion-dollar business, she just needed a way to support her family.
“I was bringing my daughter over here for the schools, for a better education,” says Yen, founder, owner and president of Diamond Wipes International Inc. “My thinking was if I could have one machine, I could make money to pay the rent.”
Building the business from a small restaurant wipe supplier to the largest consumer and industrial wet wipes manufacturer on the West Coast wasn’t easy, but Yen had her children to keep her motivated.
“I hired tutors to help them learn English,” Yen says. “Every night, I sat with them to do homework and tutoring. In the beginning, I had one machine and my dream was to sell 2,000 cases per month. Then I can support my family, and we can make some money. I never envisioned that we could be where we are today.”
The company now serves more than 2,000 clients in the food service, hospitality, health and beauty industries — producing 2,600 different kinds of wipes ranging from makeup removing to cleaning.
Yen is grateful for what her team has accomplished and is careful not to let herself or her people get carried away with the company’s success.
“There are a lot of companies that have been more successful than we are in different ways,” Yen says. “Some of them have bigger market share, higher volume in sales, higher margin on products or patents. We’re very proud of ourselves. But we’re also very humble. We do very down-to-earth, solid things every day. We don’t want to think we’re going to the moon on day one. We do it one step at a time.”
Eye on the future
Yen has gone through a series of transformations in her time leading Diamond Wipes. In the early days with her single machine, she was the company. Even as it started to grow, she needed to be selling her brand.
“In the early stages, we were very limited and had one or two items,” Yen says. “So we went out and educated the whole United States about what hot towels were. What is a hot towel? How can you use it? How could it benefit you? It’s persistence of introduction and education.”
These days, Yen is primarily focused on the big picture and what it will take to continue to grow her business. She has built a team of leaders and employees who can take care of many of the functions she once had to manage.
But no matter what stage you’re at with your business, early stage or established business, Yen says you always need to be thinking of new ways to sell your product or service.
“I’m a natural salesperson and entrepreneur,” Yen says. “I am focusing on what we will be doing in two years. Where will we be in two years? What does the company need? If I say we want to grow into a medical field and develop medical wipes or a similar product to compete in that industry, what do we need from people on the R&D side? Or do we want to get into a new brand in retail? Do we want to build a new brand?”
One of the keys to her success is the fact that as she’s thinking about the future, she’s bringing her employees into the discussion to get their feedback.
“If I see something new and very interesting, I will step in to look at it and then gather the team to talk to them together and develop an idea,” Yen says. “So I’ve evolved from a hands-on, frontline salesperson to a manager to a group leader. That’s where I see myself now.”
Know your key roles
Within the team concept, there are roles that should be prioritized in any organization. Yen sees sales, operations and finance as the three pillars of a profitable business model.
“If there are no sales, there is no company,” Yen says. “How do you grow a company without any sales? Everything you make, you have to sell it and the sale has to make a profit. It has to make sense; it has to be meaningful.”
An operations department needs to be focused on ensuring that everyone has the tools they need to succeed and is positioned to do their job for the business. And finance obviously keeps track of the money.
Once those pillars are in place, it’s all about the customer.
“Your job is to help customers solve problems,” Yen says. “Your job is to help them create profit. If you can help your customer generate more profit, then your customer will like you. If you can help them solve problems, you’ll earn yourself their business.”
Mission and vision are big buzzwords in the corporate world these days and they are important to Yen too. But they have to be more than words.
“It’s what we believe every day,” Yen says. “When we talk about this, we don’t put it in a statement and put it on the wall. We actually talk every day. I have one-on-one meetings with key people, but also key people under them. I want to make sure they understand what we’re doing.” ●