Chapter 10: City of Wind, Baku (2)
Karajan, the office lady of the Baku branch, continuously tried to talk Youngho into opening the brand’s directly operated store. She wanted to manage the store on her own.
Her idea was not a bad one. Since there were 2.1 million people living in Baku, it could be successful. She suggested that they pick non-overlapping clothing items from other clothing retailers so that they could be successful. It would also refresh the image of the brand.
Youngho was not sure whether he could open a new store with the 1.7 million won left from his instructor and information payment. If he opened a sloppy store, it would only give a bad image of the brand. Regardless of the size, it was better to open a well-built store in the main street to raise the value of the brand. After deliberating on what to do, Youngho asked the director to find a realtor for him.
Getting an office or store in Baku’s main street was almost as impossible as picking a star in the sky. A realtor introduced him to a store. Youngho liked its location and size, but the price was unbelievably high. The monthly rent was 5 million won, and the owner signed the contract under the condition that they pay six months’ worth of rent ahead of time.
Karajan made a fuss again, saying that it was the best location.
The expense was a bit overwhelming for Chunho Merchant, which sold middle-priced clothes and which was not well-known like other European brands. However, Youngho wanted to save Chunho Merchant’s face since it was doing so well.
He told other retailers that he was opening a store next to Moscow Hotel to raise the value of the brand. They unwillingly agreed with him after he told them that he would only sell high quality clothes that would not overlap with the clothes they were selling.
Young told Yunsuh what kinds of items he needed to display in his store. When he told Yunsuh to ship many designs in small quantities, Yunsuh gave him an earful again. She was still bossy even when Youngho made it out without asking for help from the main office.
As mentioned before, Gerhardt, who was working for Youngho as a secretary and driver, once worked in a furniture company. He had connections with the carpenters who previously worked for the furniture company. Four of them came and finished up the interior of Chunho Merchant’s store, although the process was not easy.
Youngho was bothered by the process for days since the carpenters did not finish things nicely. The quality of their interior technology was substandard. The level of the quality was like looking at the interior designs of Korea in the 90s, so they had to redo some of the work all over again for a few times. The front sign was also edited thrice.
Youngho nitpicked on everything; from the store sign to store counters. The whole thing stressed him out so much that he thought he would lose all of his hair.
If it was in Korea, every process could be resolved by using a one-stop service, but Youngho could start finishing up one by one with the help of Karajan and Gerhardt.
The person who helped him the most was the director. When he heard that Youngho decided to stay in Azerbaijan for a long-term business, he willingly helped him. Youngho already reported his relationship with the director to the militia and the CIA, so there was nothing to worry about getting help from him.
After the long hassle, the store was finally open.
Youngho did not have many acquaintances, so he invited some people, including the director of Main Police Department and his wife.
“Mr. Lee, I’m impressed. I came here to support my cousins who work for you, but this is so much better than I imagined. Something like this is hard to find in Baku.”
Not knowing what Youngho had to go through, the director gave him an empty compliment. In fact, there had been countless things that might have ripped off Youngho if it were not for the director’s help. Youngho was thankful.
“Because you were my helper, I had the courage to do this much. I appreciate your support and look forward to working with you more. I’ll be doing more businesses with the militia. I’m ready to take their money.”
Hearing the word ‘militia,’ the director’s face brightened.
“That’s a great idea. If you just let me know what items you are selling and how many, I will be glad to support your future businesses as well.”
“That’s not a problem. It’s nothing compared to your help.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lee.”
Watching the director smile, Youngho felt guilty for using him, but he straightened his view. After all, it was because of the director that Youngho was misjudged as a spy, and the director was simply paying for that.
“I have a little gift for you. This is a Korean way to greet people, so please do not feel uncomfortable. Instead, please spread good words about Chunho Merchant.”
Youngho gave a teacup set from Korean H Porcelain brand and a Korean traditional foldable hand fan to the guests. As soon as they unwrapped the gifts, they let out their exclamations. After looking at their reactions, Youngho thought he could display the H Porcelain brand at the side of his store.
The more expensive and unique clothes unseen in other Baku clothing stores, sold successfully as clients started spreading the word.
The profit was 60% of each clothing, meaning that he would make 60,000 won from selling clothes worth 100,000 won. Chunho Merchant’s own brand, that Yunsuh had put a four-leaf clover design on the label of, was making its name in Baku.
It was told that Europeans believe four-leaf clovers brought good luck. There were lots of stories behind it, including the story of Napoleon who was able to avoid a bullet flying to him because he bent his body when he found a four-leaf clover.
“Yunsuh, send me some more clothes that you designed, just about twenty pieces each. It’s urgent, so send it through the flight to Baku that’s connected in Turkey.”
“What? Are they making it that well? Hmm, I’m not making much for the design.”
“Yunsuh, did you forget how much you made from the orders? And buying clothes wholesale is no labor.”
“Oppa, designing is the hard part.”
“Executive Director Lee Yunsuh, don’t you forget that you are not paying any living costs or employee wages here.”
“All right, I get it. You are doing pretty well without any financial support. And what about H Porcelain? You are spreading it too thin, how are you going to patch that up?”
Yunsuh, who took care of Youngho like a mother back in Korea, did not seem to trust him fully.
“My Yunsuh, I know you know everything, but I didn’t know you could see things from that far. I displayed the teacup sets at a side in the store and it’s selling well.”
“Don’t make things so complicated, and oppa, the designs for the high-class clothes were created by my friend. She’s working for us, but we’ve got to pay her for the designs separately. She almost lives in the factory now.”
Yunsuh had hired her friend from college as a Chunho Merchant’s designer. She complained that her friend was working so hard because Youngho ordered different designs in small quantities, so her friend had to meet his needs day and night.
“Is that so? Okay, what is her bank account number? I will send $1,000 a month.”
“What? How much are you expecting to make a month?”
“Not exactly sure, but about forty million won? I don’t know exactly yet since it hasn’t been a month.”
“That’s great, oppa. So, you’ll have enough to use there.”
“That’s more than enough. I will save some for wedding funds.”
“Oppa, I have plenty of your wedding funds saved at Chunho Merchant. Don’t you worry.”
“Yunsuh, use the money for yourself. I’ve got enough myself but you need to take care of in-laws too. You’ll need more.”
Yunsuh was close to tears, so he changed the subject quickly.
The Korean saying ‘it sells like it has wings’ must have been made for Chunho Merchant’s clothing store in Baku, Youngho thought.
He was short on supplies even though clothes were sent through flights once every week. People here even stripped clothes from mannequin displays. The porcelain teacup sets were a hit, so Youngho opened another store next to the clothing store for porcelain goods.
H Porcelain company had lent their name to Chunho Merchant and sold their products to them. Chunho Merchant was able to get products at factory prices by paying them in cash, and when selling the sets in Baku, their profit was more than 40% of the selling price.
In Baku, most people preferred colorful and fancy household goods designs. So the factory designed their products according to the local preferences using vivid colored prints on teacups and plates.
The director had brought in most of the buyers especially ever since Youngho sent a full set of household goods to his wife. He also sent teacup sets to government officials in secret, and they were impressed by Youngho. These people did not really care for the idea of bribing.
In two months, Youngho earned a net profit of more than 70 million won from the two stores after subtracting the monthly rents and employee payments. Youngho was almost rolling in money.
He now had hired four salespersons, and Karajan was doing well as a store manager. Because the employees were Karajan’s friends or cousins, the atmosphere of his stores were family-like, although he felt like he was being watched every day.
The word ‘inshallah*’ could be an excuse to any faults here.
People used that as an excuse word to get out of things, saying that all things happened due to God and His will, and what could they do to the mighty God?
Youngho was counting item stocks and heard a middle-aged woman spitting out the word after dropping a teacup on the floor.
Although Azerbaijani people did not strictly follow religious laws, they conventionally abused the word inshallah. Sometimes it was just used for an excuse word to cover up faults.
But then, surprisingly, the teacup did not break when it hit the marble floor. Bone-china’s sturdiness was proven.
Until then, British bone-china products were considered as the best quality, and most people could not even dream about getting the British brand bone-china due to their high price. The middle-aged woman, who was making a fuss, bought three teacup sets immediately. The price was not cheap—they cost 300,000 won each. The word travelled fast that H Porcelain brand’s teacups and plates were unbreakable.
All items were sold out, so a person from H Porcelain company’s headquarters flew over to Youngho with their products.
The staff from the H Porcelain head office was very excited about Youngho’s achievements, saying that Baku’s sales in a short period was more than what the head store in L department store sold in the first quarter of 2010.
There was a huge gap between the rich and poor here.
Bribing was frequent and conventionally done among government officials. But because of this fact, it was a good place to have business. One of the reasons that H Porcelain was selling well was that H Porcelain household sets were just right for bribes disguised as gifts.
Youngho was drinking beer with the H Porcelain staff, Kim Sungkyung who was in his late thirties, at a hotel bar. He introduced himself that he had been a staff member at H Porcelain’s foreign marketing department for the past ten years.
“Manager Lee, can you explain more about your company, Chunho Merchant? Having a branch here, your company must have come a long way, but you don’t even have a web page.”
He must have been curious about us since the sales skyrocketed, thought Youngho.
“Well, I’m just running a family business. I do everything here by myself.”
“I was told that you have connections with a high official here. I’m very curious.”
“Hahaha, there is a reason why. I’m embarrassed by it, but I was lucky.”
Youngho explained his experience with Main Police Department and the militia, except the story about the CIA. He made the story simple and funny, and Kim Sungkyung laughed hard.
“And that’s when you said, ‘give me my life back’!? Hahaha!”
“True. I received business orders from the two places, and also received lots of help from both.”
“Wow, I admire your perseverance. If I were you, I would have fled from this sick place.”
Youngho could not agree with him. It would be plain stupid to run away from here just because you got beaten. Why not get something out of that, why not suck them out for that? That was his mindset.
“People here are naive. You’d hear about ethnic conflicts and hatred. But these people are innocent to the core. It’s just that they couldn’t cut the corruption out of the government since the time of Soviet Union, but my view toward them is that they are just kind and innocent people.”
“I just can’t believe that they can drink freely in here, manager Lee.”
Youngho too was surprised when he saw their drinking culture. Azerbaijan was the only country that did not pray during prayer times thrice a day under Islamic culture.
“Isn’t that true? Most women here don’t wear hijabs. They are very liberated.”
“It is indeed a charming country. From now on, our headquarters will pay more attention to the store in Baku.”
“I’m not one to say this, but in a few years, I will make the richest of the three nations near Caucasus mountain range drink and eat with H Porcelain.”
Kim Sungkyung was fired up by Youngho’s remark. It was certainly a big deal that Youngho’s sales reached 60 million won in just two months. That meant he could even make more than 400 million won in this year.
He was dreaming about raising foreign anticipatory export sales for 2011. When the H Porcelain’s tableware set was picked as the official tableware for the Nobel Prize award ceremony, the whole company dined together, celebrating the company’s achievement. However, the sales had gone down afterward due to global economic recession. Now, Kim was seeing a little hope again from the city of two million people. Thinking that it was a good idea to take a business trip to come here, he took a sip of cold beer.
*inshallah- an arabic word, translated as ‘God willing’ or ‘if God wills’
Use arrow keys (or A / D) to PREV/NEXT chapter