In September 2004, Gitte Svarrer and Lone Thier decided to go out on a limb. Armed with Gitte’s marketing experience and the connections of her buying agency in Vietnam, they set out to realize Lone’s idea of importing European and American designed interior decorations for homes in Singapore. Customers quickly came flocking – both expatriates and Singaporeans – and the numbers on the bottom line quickly backed Gitte and Lone’s courage in rewarding fashion by breaking even with all the start-up expenses in a matter of weeks. And ever since, the success of Good Value Import has continued to impress even its owners.
“When we started in September, we would have been happy to sell one container’s worth of goods before Christmas. But by now, seven containers have passed through our system,” Gitte Svarrer says.
Both Gitte and Lone arrived in Singapore with their husbands in the summer of 2003. It was Lone’s first posting abroad, but for Gitte just an addition to her and her husband’s previous commitments in Thailand, Tunisia, and Vietnam. During these years, Gitte had started a company called Dedema, which still to this day imports exclusive designer goods to Scandinavia, and she established herself as a buying agent. Thus, she arrived in Singapore with a bulging address book of contacts in Vietnam, which now plays a crucial role in Good Value Import’s business. Gitte still goes to Vietnam about 10 times a year to place orders for Dedema to Scandinavia – and at the same time for Good Value Import to Singapore. Gitte and Lone’s success relies on importing products from Vietnam, which were designed for export and thus cannot be found in the local Asian markets.
Minding Their Own Business
The whole thing got started when first-time expatriate Lone, a former press officer for the political party Det Radikale Venstre, wanted to do something completely different to spice up her new life in Singapore. Knowing Gitte’s background, she convinced her that the concept of offering exquisite interior decorations and ideas for homes would be a success in Singapore.
Lone turned out to be right. Today, nearly 3,000 regular customers are registered in Gitte and Lone’s database.
“The most important thing for us is that we have fun with it, and that we think it’s professional and unique. But of course, it’s nice that we are also making money in the process. That means we will most likely be able to sell the company to a Singaporean, when our time here is up,” Gitte explains.
So far, Gitte and Lone have been selling their imported goods out of Lone’s home on Andrew Road, but with the increasing amount of customers they might move the location in November by opening a store in downtown.
The two of them do everything themselves; from selecting the goods, arranging the transport from Vietnam to Singapore, emptying the containers upon arrival, doing the decoration, selling, and keeping the finance books. Thus, they often end up working close to 40 hours a week, even though they are only open for business at least three days a week.
“We are both driven by our passion to be creative. This is our project and our adventure. Our job is our hobby. That’s why we have so much fun with it. We can even enjoy sitting up late into the night taking care of the finances,” says Gitte.
Although occasional advertising in local magazines and stands at conventions attracts a growing number of Singaporean customers, the most effective marketing tool for Good Value Import has been the “word of mouth” effect among expatriates.
“About 20% of our customers are Singaporeans, but the rest of our clientele are expats – and they talk! Besides Scandinavians, we have many French customers, and they are very gregarious. If you get one French customer, you can be sure to get 10 more. We also sell to Americans, Brits, Japanese, and Germans. 98% of the people who show up to look walk away with something they like,” Gitte explains.
Gitte and Lone mainly sell to individual customers, but also to companies in search of corporate gifts or anniversary gifts for their employees. Special events around Christmas and Easter have added to Gitte and Lone’s busy schedule, and the next event is expected to take place when their ‘business baby’ turns one in September. Their real children are not much older; Lone has a two year-old son and a newborn arriving in September, while Gitte is the mother of a five year-old daughter and a seven year-old daughter.
With all this on their hands, Gitte and Lone are pleased that Singapore is a fairly easy place to run this type of business.
“It was easier for us because our supply base was in order, but it was still hard to get the logistical staff and the handimen in Singapore to give a good service. It has been a fun and fruitful learning experience, and it’s definitely something we can recommend to others,” Gitte says.