Isaiah Choi had been away from Guam for 30 years before returning with his wife for a visit in 2019. Almost instantly, they fell in love with the island and its culture, and made a major life decision to relocate to the island from their residence in downtown Seattle. What Choi left behind was a lucrative career in finance along with a couple of businesses that specialized in popular technology accessories. Unfortunately, his business model at the time targeted the mainland United States as his primary marketplace, so he would have to devise something new if he were to relocate to Guam.
Items that 'improve daily life'
The plan was to open a brick-and-mortar store where, according to Choi, people could browse for hours while being fascinated by the products. “I’m focusing on home items, practical items that can improve daily life,” he said.
The onset of the pandemic delayed the brick-and-mortar development of the business, which is named CK Outlet. However, Choi was able to bring to market a modest product line of about a dozen items that he mostly keeps in storage, with a small working inventory at his home. His flagship products are manual garment washing machines, an idea that Choi said was suggested by a friend. “I feel very blessed in meeting locals who gave me the idea of the manual washers and other items,” he said.
Choi said he bought all of the manual washers he could find on the market, trying to find the manufacturer who provided the highest quality product. He is so keen on the manual washers, which come in small and large sizes, that he acquired regional selling rights from the manufacturer. Other items in the product line include smartwatches, mini air coolers and sanitizing devices.
Personal delivery: A no-brainer
The entrepreneur uses social media to advertise the products, and responds quickly when contacted via private message. “Social media makes it easy to reach a local customer base,” Choi said. When deals are struck, Choi delivers the items to the customer personally, anywhere on island. The personal delivery is something that Choi gleaned early on. “It’s a cliche, but customer service is critical in business, so delivering the products to the customers personally was something I decided very early, it was a no-brainer,” he said. He observed that some products, including some of the sanitizing items, didn’t generate much interest on social media, but the the items still sold well through a low-tech form of advertising. “Word of mouth is very powerful, and that’s how the sanitizing products were able to move,” he added.
Ironically, the pandemic restrictions weren’t the main obstacles in starting CK Outlet, which launched around June 2020. Guam was under Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 and a stay-at-home order was crippling many businesses. The downtime allowed Choi to research and test the products himself before adding the manufacturers to his supply chain. “The biggest challenge wasn’t the pandemic restrictions, but finding the right manufacturer for the items I was looking for,” Choi said.
'Be brave and try it out'
Choi has noticed a difference in sales in recent weeks, saying “business is steady, but I do notice a tapering off as the PUA (pandemic unemployment assistance) started expiring.” He is confident a store is forthcoming, “I will start the brick-and-mortar store in 2021, ideally a place where customers will be fascinated by browsing our products.” Choi estimates he has invested more than $30,000 to start the business, “I thought that was a fair amount to risk, but a person can get started with much less than that, even a few thousand.”
Choi echoes the advice of other entrepreneurs who have started businesses during the pandemic, stating “It’s really not that hard to get started, be brave and try it out.”
Those interested in the products of CK Outlet can view the company's Facebook page under the same name, or contact Isaiah Choi directly at 687-7742.