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Wow! A Scrubbing Alternative Worth 100 Billion Won

Posted December. 07, 2005 08:32,   


A product born out of a housewife’s innovative idea is creating a myth.

The steam cleaner of the Han Kyoung-hee Steam Cleaning Co. has exceeded 100 billion won in accumulated sales (based on its factory price) as of last month after beginning manufacturing in 2001.

Still, CEO Han Kyoung-hee (42) was nonchalant, saying, “This is only the beginning.”

An Invention Born from an Abhorrence for Scrubbing-

CEO Han has led an uncommon career.

After graduating from the French department of Ehwa Women’s University, she worked for two years in Public Relations department for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). She acquired her MBA at California State University in the U.S. and worked hard, doubling and tripling the performance of local employees in hotels, real estate consulting companies, and trading companies in the United States.

After getting married in 1996, she became a public official, passing the regular recruitment test of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development. She has led a career anyone would be proud of.

However, three years into married life, her life changed completely. One day, while cleaning the house, she thought to herself, “Isn’t there a way to clean the house without all this scrubbing?” and this led to the idea for a steam cleaner.

Leaving her job as a public official, she opened her own company. The 80 million won hurriedly acquired through mortgage loans was all the seed money she had.

She says she thought “In a world that fires rockets, making a cleaner should be a piece of cake!”

Nothing was Easy, from Development to Distribution-

The idea of combining a vacuum cleaner and scrubbing was a good one. But a good idea only accounts for 10 percent of total success. She went to university research teams and requested tests, and ordered samples at factories, but the response was cold.

Han says, “Everyone thought of me as the women who would spend all her money on this sure-to-fail project.” She had to undergo the pain of disposing of 3,000 prototypes that had been developed after two years of R&D as they were lacking in durability.

The ‘walls of distribution’ were higher still. The first product was released with much hope in 2001 after structural changes, but its sales only amounted to 200 million won. Distributors were unenthusiastic, saying “Who would buy a steam cleaner when they already have a vacuum cleaner?” but she did not stop persuading them.

Creating a Myth-

As she endured difficulties, she recorded sales of two billion won in 2002, which jumped to four billion won the next year. Through word-of-mouth, the product advertised itself.

Positive reviews were continuously posted on internet websites, such as, “I bought one for my mother and received a compliment for the first time in my life.” and “I would like to place a large order of about 10.” Though its volume is small, the company even began to export to overseas markets.

Eventually in autumn of last year, the product was aired on a home-shopping channel and the response was explosive. The orders poured in, amounting to nearly 10,000 in an hour, and even paralyzing the home-shopping network ARS.

Sales skyrocketed from 15 billion won last year to 80 billion won as of November this year. The company size also grew exponentially to a company with about 120 employees.

CEO Han says “It is my dream to make a world with a high quality of life regardless of one’s wealth.” She is planning to continue developing innovative low-end household products.

Jae-Dong Yu jarrett@donga.com