Hong Kong entrepreneur Claire Yates is shaking up the stationery industry with her unique blend of heritage and humour.
Claire Yates, the half-British, Half-Chinese entrepreneur and creative force behind Lion Rock Press, knows a thing or two about her trade – her family has been running a paper business in Hong Kong for over 120 years. Now on a mission to save the dying print industry, she is contributing to both her family’s heritage and the reinvention of the time-old tradition of greeting cards with her own brand of cute, amusing products.
Like many before her, Claire started Lion Rock Press thanks to personal need. She couldn’t find appropriate souvenirs and stationery in Hong Kong to send to friends and relatives. Frustrated with the lack of options, she created a series of greeting cards that referenced Hong Kong culture in a new way. Now, that product range spans souvenirs, trinkets and more and is sold both around Hong Kong and online. Here, she talks us through how she got her business off the ground.
Can you briefly tell us how Lion Rock Press started?
I didn’t have any intention to make Lion Rock Press into a profitable business at first, it actually happened by chance. I printed Christmas cards for a fundraising event for a local charity, Mother’s Choice. They were seen by the founder of the Bookazine bookstore here, who bought the lot and said she wanted to buy everything we were going to produce in the future!
Can you tell us about the design process?
For the first 2 years, we focused on stationery and greeting cards with artwork that represented my English and Chinese heritage. It’s a natural process for me to merge two cultures because I’m in touch with my Hong Kong roots and I consider myself British, and it’s fun to play around them both. Hong Kong offers a happy style of artwork but at the same time, I like western humour. I remember the first Christmas card I made had Santa Claus holding onto the back of a green minibus with a reindeer driver wearing a pair of sunglasses and leather gloves.
What is your favourite design?
I wanted to create a card that showed appreciation towards loved ones, so I played around with the phrase ‘You’re one in a million’. It ended up as ‘Wonton in a Bouillon’ and turned out to be one of our best sellers because it was such a generic card that you could send to your parents, teacher or boyfriend.
Was it a desire to start to continue family traditions that inspired you to go into the stationery business?
When I think about it, it probably was. We’ve been in the business for over 120 years and my grandfather had wanted me to join it. Lion Rock Press is actually in no way affiliated with the family business, but I am able to use family contacts and draw from that experience. In a way, I am modernising the paper industry with creativity, and if I ever I need a source or advice, there’s always someone there.
Do you have any advice for the next generation wanting to continue family businesses?
You need remain true to yourself. As paper merchants, we have been seeing a declining market as there’s so much stuff online now. But I didn’t join the family business because it had become a dying industry, I started in this field to make a success of out it, and it’s been really fun to share that journey with family members.
What has been the biggest challenge in running Lion Rock Press?
Balancing motherhood and work, particularly when the business was growing quickly. The time I made the decision to add to the Christmas gift range in 2015 was rash, but it was a breakthrough moment for the company. I was looking for Hong Kong-themed Christmas decorations and I couldn’t find any so I created four unique styles and ordered 750 from our suppliers, which was the minimum order. I posted a message on Facebook groups to let them know about these decorations and within 2 hours, there were 500 comments on my feed. By the end of the season, we had sold 10,000 orders.
You’re definitely a go-getter when it comes to your business, would you advise everyone else to approach business in the same way?
I personally run like that because I listen to my instincts. You learn by putting your product out there and getting honest feedback from customers. I know my customer really well so I know what they want. As an entrepreneur, you need to be accountable for your failures. You need to be humble. If the customer raises an issue, apologise and ask them how you can make it up to them. Customer service in a country where it is undervalued is so important. I write handwritten letters thanking them for their orders.
When the going gets tough, what do you do?
Reach out to your friends and the network around you, explain your situation and ask for help.
My business has become part of my identity so everybody has accepted it, and most the time, they are willing to help.