The Golden Pair - Founder's Story
When people first encounter Pan XiaoZhen, they can tell in no time that he is successful. He is fit and tan, with a ready warm smile. He seems to know everyone; he is interested in a wide range of topics and presents his thoughts in a precise and eager way.
And they are right about that.
Born in a small town called YongAn known as the “Bamboo Forest” in China, Pan excelled early academically, and easily entered a prestigious university studying Architecture and Industrial Management. Caught in the biggest wave of entrepreneurialism and privatization since the Cultural Revolution, Pan started a Real Estate Training Course venture as a side project. By the time he graduated from university, he had a high GPA, real business experience and he was also rich, at least by college graduate standards at the time.
Fast forward 5 years, in 1998, Pan was doing quite well as a Director in a state-owned real estate firm in XiaMen, one of five Special Economic Zones in China and also a boom town. Pan was married with an elegant wife and a beautiful new born baby girl. On the outside, his life could not be more perfect; but inside, the restless Pan knew that he was ready for a fresh start – to realize the entrepreneurial dream that he always had.
Then he met Wen, an old pal from high school.
Less outgoing and slightly reserved, Wen JianHuai had been steadily climbing the corporate ladder in the banking industry and was recently promoted to Vice President at his branch when he met Pan. Over beer and some hometown main-stay dishes, the two old friends recalled their old innocent days. They raised bottles and congratulated each other on their relatively successful careers. The night grew longer and they continued to talk, anything they could think of: the real estate market, the opportunities and most importantly, their ambitions.
“What do you want to do?” they asked each other.
They both wanted to start their own business, although they were not entirely sure what kind of business. They both also instinctively realized that the childhood friend sitting across the table could make a great partner: both were driven, hardworking and detail oriented, but while Pan was a great salesman and networking hub, Wen was financially savvy and structure minded.
Over the next few months, they met regularly and started doing some side ventures together. Through one of their real estate deals, they accidentally found out that the kitchen cabinetry was in its early infancy phase in China’s newly affluent middle-class’ life. And it is clearly booming and very much in demand. Pan and Wen decided within a couple of months that the kitchen cabinetry industry was where they wanted to start their brand new business.
In story after story, we hear visionary men giving up almost everything they had to pursue their dreams, and eventually prevailing as heroes after great struggles. Well, that was not exactly what happened to these two men. Pan and Wen decided to keep their well-paid and stable day jobs, and worked at night at their new venture.
You may also think that since Wen was already in the banking industry and himself a banker, they must have a commercial loan secured to start their business. Well that was not the case either. In fact, they did not even bother to try – no Chinese bank would lend to two individuals based on a good idea in a brand new industry and Wen knew it firsthand. So they also decided to pool all of their personal savings on the new business, including the portion of the saving that Wen intended for marrying his high-school sweetheart back in their hometown.
“It was a 15-hour drive across the state-line and I didn’t dare to nap. I was sitting in the passenger’s seat next to this sweaty driver and peeking through the window. I saw the big used Table Saw and Edge Binder crowding among other cabinet making raw material and equipment – all the things that I had just spent all of our personal savings on…” Pan remembers that specific day as if it was yesterday. To keep the driver fully awake, Pan fought his own fatigue and kept cracking jokes. The truck labored through, with the heavy load and Pan and Wen’s entrepreneurial dream.
“Were we sure that our little venture will be a success? No we weren’t.” Pan and Wen knew nothing was certain, but the opportunity was real with clear demand and abundant resources. They recruited a couple of skilled workers and they rented a small retail space in a building material plaza. All Wen and Pan needed to do was execute their plan well.
Then came the delay. They hit a bureaucratic roadblock for their commercial retail space when one of the required approval stamps from the City Fire Department stalled. Three months in, they ran out of cash and their workers at the factory were about to quit after doing nothing but polishing the machinery.
“That was a scary period. And we honestly almost didn’t make it.” Pan recalled the night before the payroll day when he had to track down one of his rich friends to borrow money to pay the workers the next day. Pan drove in the rain to meet his friend at a Karaoke Bar. “It was with loud music and in a cloud of smoke that I took the cash from my friend…” Pan and Wen made the payroll next day and the workers stayed.
Three days later, the long waited “stamp” approval came. GoldenHome Kitchen opened its door on March 18, 1999 at a non-descriptive retail space in XiaMen. On their first day, they took 3 orders and they never looked back.