For four business-minded Western students, a trip to China and a Biz 257 feasibility study is turning into a profitable international opportunity.
While travelling in China during an exchange program, Hold’em Promotions president Chris Albion and business partner Greg Donovan — both third-year administrative and commercial studies students at King’s College — noticed pocket-sized, ad-bearing tissue packs were distributed on many street corners.
“We just said, ‘why can’t we make that work in Canada?’” Donovan says. The newfound company, which also includes third-year Western ACS student Brad Kirby and first-year HBA student Kyle Murray, expects the trend to catch on in North America within the next year or two.
The business, Donovan explains, sells tissue packs and ad placements. Its first client, the Salvation Army, liked the idea enough to buy 50,000 packets for distribution in southwestern Ontario (excluding the Greater Toronto Area), in conjunction with its annual Christmas kettle campaign.
So how do the students balance the demands of full-time studies with running their own company?
“A lot of late nights,” Albion laughs. “It is a juggling act — we really rely on each other.”
Producing their product has been an international adventure. Working with East-West Partnerships, their Biz 257 professor Ken Bowlby’s quality control firm, the tissues are produced at various factories in China before passing through Bowlby’s Dalian, China-based operation.
After the project won the King’s feasibility contest, and was an Ivey semi-finalist, Albion and Murray decided to continue the venture (their three classroom partners opted out), and brought Donovan and Kirby aboard.
“An honest challenge we face is that we are students,” Donovan says, adding, if the four partners were not all studying full-time, two people could likely run the firm. “Our [main] cost is our time.”
“But [being students] also works to our advantage, from a promotional standpoint,” Albion says.
A larger initial cost they faced was an investment of several thousand dollars, as a letter of credit — a document allowing a Canadian bank to work with a Chinese bank to perform business transactions — was unavailable at first.
Albion, the self-declared “big thinker” of the group, says it was a risk they had to take. “I’d do it again in a second,” he says, noting all the money invested has been recouped.
And it would appear the investment was worth it; their original offer of 20,000 units to Salvation Army more than doubled, and the campaign may have national potential in years to come. Plus, the company is expanding, having secured orders from other large companies in the process of developing its brand image, and talking to 15-20 other possible clients.
“This could pay all of our tuition,” Donovan says.