Most people have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. Not Rick Louie and Daniel Fu. The global sourcing and trading specialists who co-founded Renfrew Trading Company are excited about waking up at the first sign of dawn. They live in the unhappiest city in Canada, which also happens to be the third most unaffordable in the world… so what’s their secret?
They work for themselves.
“[Employers] buy your time so that you can earn the money for them,” Rick explained. “I buy my own time, so I can make my own future for myself.” He’s speaking from experience. After studying economics at SFU and architecture at BCIT, the would-be architect started his career as a cost consultant for developers. A year later, he realized that he’d just lost twelve months of his life to data entry and was destined for more of the same if he stayed. “I looked up at my managers, who’d been there for ten, fifteen years. They were doing the same thing I was doing, just with bigger projects.” It was a bleak prospect. He wrote his resignation letter during the lunch break and set out in search of better opportunities.
That search led him to Asia, where he noticed that retailers were making the transition from plastic bags to reusable ones. He flew home to find out whether Vancouver retailers had already begun to do the same; they hadn’t. He’d found his niche.
Armed with samples, Rick knocked on doors until he found BrandInc’s first client. Then its second. Eventually, his client list grew to include heavy hitters like Coca-Cola, Roots and Wal-Mart. Rick was hooked. As his business evolved, so too did the marketplace. E-commerce was increasingly changing the way people did business. The more Rick learned about this phenomenon, the more it intrigued him. He launched a seasonal pop-up shop called Halloween Craze, then an online men’s fashion retailer Louie Supply Co.
Like Rick, Daniel started out on the corporate path. He put his communications degree to work for a marketing firm, working with clients like Apple Inc., TD Bank and Rogers for four years before deciding that he’d had enough. His exit route was a little different from Rick’s: it struck him while he was watching television. As someone who’d been sourcing products from antique shows and auctions as a side hobby, he recognized how heavily staged shows like Storage Wars were. He wondered what the market would be for a show that dispensed with the script. With Direct Liquidation owner Jeff Schwarz in tow, Daniel pitched the idea for The Liquidator to Canadian network OLN. The show is now entering its fifth season and airs in 140 countries.
While Daniel got busy managing branding and marketing for the show, he kept an eye out for other opportunities to expand on his passion for sourcing, which he felt would take his career to the next level. It was a seed that had been planted years before by a man he’d met while selling apples as a Boy Scout. The man, a wealthy-looking guy with a gold watch, gave a stunned young Daniel ten dollars instead of the usual twenty-five cent donation. “I looked at him like, ‘Man, what do you DO?’, and he said he imported products,” Daniel said. It was a message that stayed with him.
Rick and Daniel finally crossed paths in November 2013, when Rick decided to move all of his business over to e-commerce. This meant clearing out the leftover Halloween Craze inventory. While researching liquidation options, he came across The Liquidator. He and Daniel hit it off immediately.
“We’re pretty much the same person,” Daniel said. The pair discovered that they had several mutual friends and had attended Simon Fraser University at the same time. Both men are from families who immigrated to Canada at around the same time, Dan from Taiwan and Rick from Hong Kong. They even live within a block of each other. “How had we not met before?”
Not long after they’d finished their Halloween Craze deal, Rick asked his new friend for his opinion on a kitchen gadget called VaccuumClicka. Daniel loved it. They created Renfrew Trading Co. and started working together in earnest. After a disastrous experience with Kickstarter (the crowdfunding platform suspended their campaign in its final hours, leaving $182,272 in pledges just out of reach), they exploded onto the scene: the IndieGoGo campaign to launch VaccuumClicka reached 235% of its fundraising goal at the end of November last year and was featured in the Vancouver Sun. Rick and Daniel, who track sales on their phones, suddenly found their waking (and sleeping) hours punctuated by cheerful “cha-ching!” alerts.
“You can’t wait for everything to align perfectly before you go and do something, otherwise you’re not going to go anywhere,” Rick said. “As soon as you see an opening, go for it one step at a time. You get stuck? Just fine. Wait for the next opening and step up slowly. That’s eventually how you’re gonna get to where you need to be.”
Stick with it long enough, and you too may find someday yourself waking up with a smile on your face and a phone full of sales notifications from last night.