Making money always came naturally to Robert Wang, somewhat like breathing.
“When I was young, I knew how to make money,” he says. “When I came to this country, I wanted to be in business, so I worked very hard to save a lot of money. Woke up at four o’clock in the morning and delivered papers, seven o’clock went to a computer lab. At nine o’clock, I was a salesman on the road, and worked until the sun set.”
His first business was selling macrame and he saved around $8,000 and bought a Ford Econoline 100 van to move merchandise. Later came a small warehouse. He added products and started growing faster than his competitors.
“You keep in touch with the market,” he says. “And you understand your customer. I studied what was going on in the market, and added on.” He brought in his employees as a team and brainstormed constantly. “We continued challenging ourselves, and create, create, destroy, create, destroy, create. We kept on the leading edge to success.”
One of his best resources is to listen to young customers and keep an open mind. “We sell home furnishing products. Buyers are in their late 20s, 30s, 40s. There’s nobody 60 years old buying anything from us — they don’t need it. Their house is too big, they have too much furniture, so you learn from young people.”
As hard as Wang has always worked and as savvy as he is about business, there has still been adversity. A major computer failure that lasted months shut his company down in 2000. “When you have a million-dollar-a-week expense and you’re dying, the bank tells you to shut it down.” Wang was back to zero.
But in 2001, at age 52, he started again. “In a few short years, it became a $40 million to $50 million company.”
And then on February 8, 2008, a tornado tore into his warehouse, destroying nearly 90 percent of his inventory. Wang took a breath and kept going, salvaging what he could, telling the insurance liquidator to go away, calling his manufacturers to send product fast. “I’m back in business within eight days, shipping product.”
Wang says it surprised people that he went down to nothing, came up again, was almost destroyed again, and came through it. “I felt like a fighter in the ring,” he says. “My hand was tied, and I got beat to death. But I’m a fighter and I fought back. They respect that. And when I get up, when I come up, I never age a little bit.”
Inside Memphis Business: What would you advise a young entrepreneur?
Robert Wang: Find what you like, what you’re good at. And find a niche. Don’t ever be a small fish in a big pond. Find a small niche. If you can find a small niche business, you can be a big fish in a small pond. Something different. Don’t copy, you cannot just follow people.