By DENISE DeJESUS
It begins with an idea and a desire to be independent.
For Queens entrepreneurs, survival will then count on finding their
consumers and finding the funds to cover opening and operating costs like commercial rent,
utilities, materials, design and salaries.
For Queens women and minorities, survival will also count on their ability to trench
through the stereotypes.
"I went through a
lot," Kathy Kwong told the Tribune as she reflected on the prejudices she has
experienced as a female minority business owner. "[They ask] oh you Chinese? You live
in Chinatown? Do you operate a laundromat mat? A sewing matching? I say, Yeah,
Im all of that. But not how they think."
Women in Business speakers Debra Singleton (above),
owner of Debbies Reins and Things, and Kathy Kwong, owner of Euro-American Uniforms.
Tribune Photo By Ron Savage
Kwong, owner of Euro-American
Uniforms, related her experiences in business as a panelist for the opening Point of View
section in last months Queens Women: Minding Their Business Conference developed by
the Queens County Overall Economic Development Corporation (QCOEDC). The annual forum is
designed to unite local entrepreneurs into a stable support, resource and information
system for themselves.
Ten years ago, Kwong merged her knowledge
and personality traits to cover the design, production and business ends of her
manufacturing company. In her line dealing with garments, accessories and unisex items
competition was alive and male dominated.
"You have to learn the ins and outs of
[business] to cope with everything," said Kwong who later added that she utilized her
knowledge to serve and give the best to her customers - a philosophy which satisfied and
expanded her business. "You learn what to expect and what to ask."
Knowing and understanding the proper
pathways were factors that led to early opportunities, including a winning bid against
major manufacturers to change the meter reader uniforms of Con Edison workers.
Today utilities like Con Ed, KeySpan and
the Port Authority are among her clients. Euro-American Uniforms products are well-known
and respected products visible on customer service representatives in both JFK and
LaGuardia airports and on stock exchange security guards.
The Queens Women: Minding Their Business E-commerce
panel included (from left to right) Julianne Wanner, director of Internet Business
Development Management Verizon, Cecilia Pagkalinawan, chief executive officer boutique
Y3K, Solan Liang, QCOEDC, Enid J.H. Karpeh, president URLjam Media, Inc. and Syl Tang,
Tribune Photo By Tony Gretaro
Kwong, like other women in business,
notes that her success was not gained by chance or good luck. There is a struggle
involved, a labor of growth challenged by diversity in every aspect.
In a business dominated by male owners,
there are a "bundle of wars youre against," said Kwong who advises other
women to forge on.
Distinguished in her field, Kwong has
learned the benefits of reciprocation.
"My company, the base of what
were doing, is to learn to give back," she said. Through internships,
workshops, in-house training, welfare to work programs, sub contractors and the hiring of
diligent immigrant workers who have difficulties finding employment, Euro-American
Uniforms rakes in success. "When you help or give, you dont even have to ask,
it just [returns] to you."
Though geared to women, the
conference also strived to re-enforce the simple basics. Knowing where to ask for money
and how to manage it increases the percentage for success.
"I didnt know anything about
financing and business plans," said Debra Singleton, a Verizon administrative manger
and owner of Debbies Reins and Things.
A little over a year ago, Singleton had an
idea to sell horse gear. With limited knowledge of the business world, she took her idea
to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
The knowledge she gained from the SBA led
Singleton to the Service Corps of Retired People (SCRP) and on to the Regional Economic
Development Assistance Corp (REDAC) where she was able to secure funds.
"My starting funds came from my 401 K.
I [figured] if Im not willing to invest in myself, how can I expect anyone else
to," Singleton told the Tribune. In time, her funds ran out but "the help
that [REDAC] gave me, helped me to finish things off."
Located at Cedar Lane Stables in southern
Queens, Debbies Reins and Things is a full service horse supply shop carrying
blankets, bits, health products, dusters, Wrangler jeans and shirts, pens, broaches and
"The guys [who come into the store]
are worse than the women at Pathmark," said Singleton, who laughed and said she has
no complaints. "They spend a good half hour just looking and touching."
The annual forum got its
start when graduating members of the QCOEDCs 1998 entrepreneur training program,
mostly women, celebrated their achievement. In a meeting of minds that followed, staff
members of the QCOEDC took notice of the growing number of female business proprietors in
Queens. Ensuing research proved that in a county with over two million people who speak
over 125 languages and dialects, ninety percent of the businesses are small businesses,
forty percent owned by women.
"The issues we talked about were
strategies, alliances, partnerships and joint ventures to [help] build and expand
business," said Joyce Moy, director of the Center for Work Force Strategies at La
Guardia Community College and professor of business law and tax law at CUNY school of law.
For her, the conference was an opportunity for experienced women in business to put on the
mother hat by saying to other women, "If I dont tell you, who will."
In Queens, women are opening businesses at
twice the rate of men, an eye-opening fact considering the difficulties both women and
minorities are faced with when opening a business. Stumbling blocks including possible
cultural differences, language barriers, no or failing credit histories, short start-up
funds and negative perceptions of women and minorities in business are all walls these
seminars are meant to crumble.
In Moys experience, keeping an eye on
expenses and balancing the needs of employees and owners are key in creating and
Increasing gross revenue is a goal best
achieved by forming alliances. Small business without name recognition and means to expand
the marketplace could benefit from the experience of a more established business.
In securing the bottom line, expenses and
profits should be monitored. If expenditures continuously exceed profit, the business may
fail. Maximizing the benefits of expenses, by hiring a capable work force will leave an
owner open to tackle other aspects of the business.
On tax issues, "a mistake I often
find... is people spending money because its tax deductible," said Moy.
"If you must spend the money, structure the transaction. Dont spend a dollar in
order to save 40 cents."
FROM THOSE WHO'VE DONE IT
As a Board member of Asian
Women in Business, Kwong welcomes opportunities for exchange and networking seminars like
the Queens County Overall Economic Developments 2000 Conference. To keep in touch
with the evolution of change in businesses, she suggests following the economy, politics
and community activity to find out what section of the market place is being affected.
"I have this vision I just have to
During her talk with the women of the QCOEDC, Singleton
told women in business to "stay focused and dont give up." Knowing the
proper investment channels will help you reach your dreams.