Family Business Confidential – Eno Brands

by Allen Esrock | May 12, 2024 | Celebrating Family Business

Kevin Tsao
ENO Brands
G2
Cypress, CA

Can you provide us with an overview of Eno Brands?

ENO Brands is a US company based in Cypress in Orange County, California.  Our clients see us as a fashion jewelry manufacturer, but we don’t manufacture jewelry in the United States and instead work with a partner manufacturer overseas in China.  The easiest way to describe what we do is that we represent that factory here in the US.  We work with mostly East Coast fashion brands including Kate Spade and Tory Burch, serving as a handful of their supply chain vendors.  They give us their jewelry specs and handle everything else including sampling, production, delivery, logistics, etc.

We have a showroom in New York, and a warehouse in California. Essentially, day in and day out, we function as a point of entry for our clients to access their supply chain, so they don’t have to talk to a bunch of Chinese vendors and subcontractors. We’re in the same time zone, we speak the same language and our clients have found that we’re a great value add.

How did the business start?

The company started in the 1980s at the weekend swap meets at Cypress College. While my father was obtaining his degree at Cypress College, he had this grand idea of selling tools at the swap meet to make some additional income.  Meanwhile my mother, who was still in Taiwan at the time, worked at a jewelry company and had access to excess goods.  She suggested they put it on the same table as the tools.   Initially, the allocation was 90% tools and 10% jewelry, but they quickly realized that no one cared about the tools, everybody wanted the jewelry.

Were your parents married at that time?

Yes, they were.  My dad’s mother emigrated to the US in the early 80s.  They were in the motel business in downtown National City in San Diego.  It was a very typical story for immigrants…you bought property and tried to make a business out of it.

This was pretty typical in the Asian community.  There was a desire to immigrate, and the United States represented a better opportunity for them and more importantly for the next generation.  The parents live separately in the US and Asia because the business is here, but you also need somebody at the ground level at the factory.  My parents were no different.

One of my considerations about joining the family business was living a life separated from my wife.  We decided that we wouldn’t do this especially seeing first-hand how challenging it can be and how it hasn’t always been easy for my parents.

How old were you when you started working for the family business?  What was your first job in the family business?

While I’m an only child and when we immigrated to the US, I grew up in a house with cousins and grandparents.  In our Chinese culture, we called each other brother and sister and that’s how we thought about each other.  From as young as I can remember, every day we’d go home, say hi to Grandma, and work the UPS station until 5 pm which was the cutoff.  It was all hands-on deck.

This was the 90’s – No internet or cell phones to keep us distracted, so to keep ourselves entertained, we’d get the empty rolls of tape and set up a basketball hoop.  We’d be playing and when an order came up, we’d stop and take care of the order.  After that, it was back to basketball.

During the summer, it was the same thing except we’d spend downtime in grandma’s pool.  I became incredibly close with my cousins and my aunts and uncle.  It’s an indelible memory and incredibly meaningful to me.

Were you expected to go into the family business?

As an only child and having grown up around the family business, there was definitely an expectation to join the family business. However, that wasn’t my plan.  As a double major in business econ and political science at UC Irvine my true passion was in politics and community engagement. After graduating, I went to work at the California State Controllers as a Special Assistant and we were tasked with putting together community events that promoted local city, state and federal programs for Californians.  Through that work, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of small family businesses and understand what challenges they faced, which I can say now, impacted my perspective of my own family business.  After two years at the state, I was at a decision point – whether to continue to work for the next incoming administration or join the family business.  I chose the latter.

One of the important things about the family business is its ability to impact the local community.  How does Eno support your local area? 

One of the main agreements that I made with my mom to join the family business  was a commitment that we would build an arm of the company that would allow us to serve the community.  Without that, I knew that it would impact how long I would stay.  Fortunately, my mom welcomed that idea which is pretty extraordinary since not a lot of Asian American families of that generation would think it’s a good idea to give money away. Our giving focused heavily on access to education, mostly through my alma mater, UC Irvine before expanding to more local causes. To date, we have been able to contribute upwards of $350,000 into our local communities here in OC.

In this last year, as my kids started to participate and engage in local programs, we’ve redirected our giving to the cities of Cypress and Fullerton, which is where we work and live. Seeing the results of our giving here in our communities has been incredibly rewarding. Some of our favorites include the Challenger basketball league in Cypress, which is a basketball program for disabled youth and a computer hardware for our local Cypress library. Just the other day, I received a message from a staff member who said her daughter loves using the machine and now there’s an extra one donated by ENO Brands.

How big a factor was the family business in your day-to-day interaction with your family members?  Were there holidays, weddings or other occasions that were affected because of the family business?  (e.g., couldn’t go out New Year’s Eve because our restaurant was open)

Fortunately for us, there was little impact of the family business on day-to-day interactions. My Grandma (or AMA as we called her) served as the matriarch of our family and she was adamant that family gatherings always came first.

Can you remember the Moment you decided to enter the family business?

I can’t recall a specific moment, but there were two key decision points including whether to renew our lease in LA or move to Orange County and my decision to propose to my wife.  Those two decision points promoted the conversations about moving home and subsequently joining the family business.

What is your long-term goal for the business?

My goal is to ensure that we are building a company that can continue into the next generation.  We need to evolve the company in a couple of different ways.  China is the main player when it comes to jewelry and we’re no exception, but the pandemic accelerated a lot of underlying issues about human rights and China shutting down, so we’ve started thinking about diversifying our supply chain.  We’re starting to have conversations regarding non-Chinese factories which include Vietnam, Thailand, India, and other locations.

The other important change is that we want to evolve and enter the licensing space.  After two decades, ENO has built a strong US presence and reputation -We really understand the US marketplace.  We want to be able to leverage that expertise and explore whether licensing can provide a new avenue for us to  increase our sales and margins.  Equally important, this change also eliminates the discussion of what happens when my father doesn’t want to manage China anymore.  I’m not interested nor able to take over the factory and no amount of succession planning is going to change that.

What’s the most important moment in the company’s history?

There was a split in our family business because family members had different interests.  As a result, my mom kept control of three major accounts.  After that, one of the three accounts went bankrupt, and the sales team realized there was an opportunity to work directly with us because we made the product, and the sales team had the relationships with the buyers.  As a result, we started working directly with Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, Dillard’s, and Starboard, which works with all the large cruise lines.  So those four horses enabled us to go from a $250,000 a year business to $4 million.  The increase in business allowed us to open up a new showroom, shore up our operations, etc.

What’s your favorite event for employees?

Our annual holiday.  One thing I learned in my first year as a professional with the company is that China works hard, but they play hard.  When my dad and my mom opened up our California business we brought over that tradition.  Our holiday party happens every year at the end and true to Chinese culture, it focuses on everybody having a fun time.  A big part of the celebration is giving employees opportunities to win significant cash prizes which are presented in red envelopes.  The caveat is that the employees have to win a contest which can be slightly embarrassing.  Nothing demeaning, just enough to add to the jovial mood.  One year we had an Oreo toss where the spouse tosses an Oreo to the employee who had to catch it in their mouth.  It’s all above board, but it’s a lot of fun. For our 15th anniversary, everybody went to Vegas.  Our 20th anniversary is coming up, so we want to create something special.

Are there any “rites of passages” for family members that join the firm?

Given I’m the only one who has joined, I would assume that the same rite of passage that I took – that is, spending time at the factory in China.  This is assuming that we’ll still have a factory in China.

Was there an event that triggered the change from “the kid” to a valued member of the management team?

Not a particular moment, but I do think it was around the 3-year mark. At that juncture, my working knowledge of the business was maturing, and my mother and I were discussing business opportunities much more often.

What was your closest moment to leaving the business?

Mid-2020 was a tough time with the pandemic and managing the business during that time. It was the first time I had to lay off staff to that magnitude. It was certainly a time that I felt burnt out.

Who gave you the best piece of advice regarding the family business?

My father – he said that in a family business, if you win the hearts of your staff, they’ll give you 100%.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when coming into the family business?

I mention this to family business colleagues or those considering all the time – In a family business, it’s important to approach the often-tricky relationships (e.g., parent and child, spouses, in-laws, generational, etc.) very intentionally. Dedicate time to overcommunicate exactly what you’re doing and why to make everyone understand. It’ll help to set the tone that in the workplace, there are defined roles that govern the discussions. It’ll help to work through tricky inter-relational topics or misconceptions. It took me a while to work out that this was the best way to achieve success in a family business organization.

SHORT ANSWER 

Biggest non-family idol or inspiration?  Professor Russell Dalton, who was integral for me pursuing community work

Favorite SoCal Sports team  Lakers, Lakers, Lakers

Favorite SoCal College UCLA!

Quintessential SoCal activity or experience Disneyland, Getty, Beach

Desert, Beach or Mountains Definitely Mountains

Where do you take visitors to spot celebrities? As a sports fan, I would say the best place would be Staples Center (or Crypto Arena)

What do you like most about SoCal? The people are nice, the weather is amazing and it’s home

What don’t you like about SoCal? That major cities are so far away

 Favorite restaurant  Mendocino Farms

Best junk food In N Out

SoCal Social Causes Boys and Girls Club

 

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Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.