What inspired her to leave her super successful job in radio to become a full-time entrepreneur? We speak to Shareen Wong of Embrace Jewellery to find out.
Multi-label jewellery store Embrace Jewellery was opened by radio veteran Shareen Wong a few months ago. But that wasn’t her first sojourn into entrepreneurship. She has also been running jewellery and home furnishing store Kai Life for the past six years with her father. We speak to her about leaving her job in radio, and about the challenges of running a store on Orchard Road.
What made you decide to open Embrace Jewellery?
After working in radio for over 14 years, I decided to take a sabbatical by travelling solo around the world after a bad breakup in 2007. During my travels, I fell in love with many gorgeous home accessories and jewellery and dreamt of opening a boutique which retails stylish, unique pieces. I started with a lifestyle store, Kai Life and opened my first jewellery boutique, Embrace Jewellery, 6 years later to introduce interesting designers around the world to Singapore/Asia while offering affordable, stylish and contemporary pieces.
Having established yourself in radio, was it hard for you to make the switch to entrepreneurship?
It’s always hard to leave my first love – radio – and I always compare it to a drug where you just can’t seem to give it up. That’s why people from the radio industry can fall off the radar and then return years later. But I’m fortunate to have found something I love doing as well – the thrill of running your own business. It’s exciting, a lot of hard work but it’s great that I can shop for a living!
Is this your first foray into entrepreneurship?
I ran an events company years ago, which I guess is closer to radio deejaying because we did host a lot of on-site shows. However, it is a very competitive industry where there are lot of people who are willing to host for next to nothing. My next project was the home accessories and jewellery store –K ai Life which I have been running for 6 years now. We started at Holland Village and now we have Kai Life Great World City, as well as Embrace Jewellery!
What are some of the challenges you encountered when you started Embrace Jewellery?
When we first went into retail, it was definitely challenging as I had no experience and had to quickly learn everything from scratch. It’s still a learning process 6 years in and I do love how challenging and different my work is. The latest challenge was setting up Embrace Jewellery which represented many firsts for us. As our very first jewellery-only store in Orchard Road, we had to contend with a completely new set-up. Taking on a store in a brand new mall also presented a whole new set of challenges that we didn’t forsee. The type of approvals and submissions you need to get when working in a new mall, is something else altogether!
What did you learn from these challenges?
Patience has never been one of my strengths, so I would say that was something I was forced to learn when the mall was delayed for over 6 months in its opening. After 6 years of running a business, sometimes you start to think you know what to expect but I’ve been taught one should never make assumptions about what you think you know. Especially with running a business, one should be ready to take on whatever comes your way.
Are you the only owner of Embrace, or do you have business partners?
Yes! My dad is my business partner. It started 6 years ago when we set up Kai Life together. He had just retired and I wanted to set up a store to keep him busy where he could sell his art work (he graduated from NAFA 40 years ago and is really talented!) He helps me with transfers of stock, is excellent at staff motivation and I seek his advice whenever we need to make some tough decisions.
There are plenty of jewellery and multi-label stores in Singapore. What sets Embrace Jewellery apart from them?
We carry designs from many up and coming designers not available anywhere else in Singapore or even Asia. We also ensure that the pieces at Embrace Jewellery are stylish, unique and affordable.
How would you describe your management style?
I’ve always liked to lead by example. That’s why I love being in the stores, selling, talking to customers. I think that’s really important as I can get their feedback first-hand. With our staff, a lot of them have been with us for a long time and I think of them as friends. They truly believe in our products and what we do and that’s the most important thing.
Fashion is competitive business in Singapore. What is your long-term strategy for success?
Keeping our customers happy. We’re glad to say we see a lot of the same faces in our store every two to three weeks, checking out our new items and jewellery. I believe in offering an exclusive range of affordable designer jewellery that appeals and entices them to return repeatedly.
Any words of advice for those who are hoping to become entrepreneurs in the fashion industry?
Be prepared for REAL hard work. This usually means doing the job which takes 10 people to do as well as all the dirty work. If you are ready for that, it can be incredibly rewarding!
Embrace Jewellery is at #01-15 Orchard Gateway.
About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.