This Powder Room means business and some big name stores from New York to Sydney are buying its puffs and sponges

102 Dalmatians, The Powder Room (young women's cosmetic sets), and kidney shaped pins for bulletin board can't be strung together if you try. But they are all products of Planet Earth Incorporated Ltd, the five-year old company set up by Nora Yeung.

Yeung is the Managing Director. The title on her name card, however, is Glamour Queen. But Glamour Queen or Managing Director, Yeung knows what she is doing. She is not glamour queen for glamour's sake. She is building a name for her products and her company with some salable, if slightly kooky, ideas.

The spunky company in a trendy back street of Hong Kong Central has a small international staff of five, including Yeung. This is the hub and soul of the company now while logistics are being handled by five 'old' staff in another office where Yeung's father used to run his operation.

Yeung is not a fancy beginner. Though her colorful products look like they come from one. In fact, she has a good grounding on business and manufacturing in her father's business, Zanwell Industries Ltd, which started out making blow molding plastic bottles but later developed into making plastic products for US and Canadian Disney licensees. Planet Earth took over the licensees' business when it was set up in 1995. Orders for Disney playthings and toiletries from these two clients still make up around 75% of Planet Earth's turnover of US$2 million in 1999. On the other hand, sales from its own branded products are picking up and are expected to more than double its 1999 total sales by 2001.

Children are more sophisticated than before

Children have become more demanding. Yeung says products that used to attract 8-year-olds now only attract children of around 5. And any interest in a product is likely to drop very soon.

The increasingly short life cycle of children products is one of the reasons why Yeung started Groovy Planet and The Powder Room, the stationery and cosmetic brands. The other main reason is that Yeung was restless for new challenge. Planet Earth started to develop stationery items in 1997, the development took a year and Groovy bulletin board was the first product. The Groovy pack includes a corkboard with a set of 12 funny pins. Yeung out-sources the corkboard and uses her father's factory in Donguan, China to make the pins. The orders received so far have been 50% for the house designs and 50% for custom-made designs. The American toy store Zany Brainy has ordered half and half and mixes them in their own packaging and sells them in bricks and mortar stores as well as online. The funny push pin's suitability as premiums cannot be understated. A US premium house has custom-made 55,000 sets of internal-organ-shaped pins for its Doctors promotion. Funny business for a serious business, one may say.

Its sponges got mentioned in Seventeen and Mademoiselle

Though Groovy Planet is making headway, Yeung's labor of love is definitely The Powder Room, her up and coming cosmetic accessories brand. The Powder Room idea was born when Yeung met a Korean manufacturer of printed nail files (nail files with fancy prints on them) whom she preferred not to name, in the 1998 Cosmoprof, a major cosmetic trade show.

Yeung spotted the potential in the cosmetic accessories market and immediately went ahead to develop printed cosmetic sponges with the Korean's help. Love, Happiness, Star, Vamp, Babe, Diva and Princess (Bitch is coming) are some of the design themes that have resulted. When the first batch of products ran off the machines, Yeung brought the sponges personally to New York's funky accessories shop Ricky's to test the market. They caught on and several teen magazines, notably Seventeen and Mademoiselle, ran write-ups on her sponges.

The sponges have developed into The Powder Room. The line has now 8 Personality Gift Sets. All component items are designed by Planet Earth but the items are made in different parts of Asia by different companies. The sets have exotic titles like the Susie Wong, the Geisha Girl, and the Glamour Puss etc. Chinese characters, Orientalness, brocade boxes and fluffy, powdery pink and cherry red are the predominant design themes and colors. The suggested retail price for the set, which contains sponges, nail polish, powder puff, lip and cheek color etc is US$30. FOB Hong Kong price from Planet Earth is around US$7.50. Yeung says the company will develop a US$5-$10 line next year for the younger girls market.

Orders are coming in

New York's Bloomingdale's is ordering lip gloss rings (lip gloss contained in a ring) for this Christmas. The US retail chain Claire's and the Australian chain Myer are soon selling its printed cosmetic sponges. The Mannings chain in Hong Kong is already selling its bath puffs while another chain in Hong Kong, Watson's, is talking about taking up its cosmetic sponges. Because of these newly signed and prospective deals, Yeung projects sales would go up to US$4.5 million in 2001. Sales in 1999 was US$2 million and the estimate for this year is US$ 3 million. So who says girls will be girls, The Power Room is business.

The factory, which employs 300 people in Donguan and owned by her father is now up for sale by the family. Yeung said it would not affect her business and that she would continue to make her plastic products there even after it is sold.