Monday, August 24, 2009

Ilkyung Sin came to the United States 10 years ago from Korea eager to pursue the American dream and start her own business. Lacking start-up capital and strong English language skills, she at first encountered tough going.

But today, Ms. Sin is one of more than 3 million people who have found success being distributors for Amway Global, which celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Baltimore Convention Center earlier this month. Distributors sell vitamins, skin care, cosmetics, energy drinks or cleaning products.

Amway, a direct selling company founded in 1959, has markets in 58 countries worldwide, and many U.S. Amway distributors come from other nations. It uses multilevel marketing to sell a wide variety of products, primarily in the health-and-beauty industry. It is ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the largest private companies in the United States and by Deloitte magazine as one of the largest retailers in the world.

“They come to America looking for opportunity, but they don’t have a lot of language skills and they don’t have a lot of capital, so this helps them find their American dream,” said Amway spokesperson Robin Luymes, who works for Amway Global’s U.S. headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Mr. Luymes said that independent business owners do “dual business” with their customers: They sell products and also try to recruit people who might make good IBOs themselves.

Ms. Sin said she loves this business not only because it allows her to make money, but also because it allows her to help people, both through its products and by recruiting other people in her community.

“I found my dream. I like to help people find their dream. I want to know what [clients] want, what is their dream? I want them to find their dream and go and go and go,” she said, waving her arms around excitedly.

Her husband, James Vine, said his wife’s command of the Korean language gives her an advantage in this business, especially given Virginia and the District’s large Korean populations.

The combination of her Korean skills and his English skills have allowed the couple to reach out and do business with a lot of different people.

“Generally, first-generation Korean people don’t do business with anyone except people in their own community,” he said. “So in a sense, what Ilkyung has done is kind of open them up a bit and show them that they can do business outside.”

Mr. Vine said he is excited that Amway gave his wife a chance to become an entrepreneur by selling its vitamins, cleaning products and cosmetics.

“For my wife, it has allowed her to start a business and thrive at this business, where it would have taken a great deal of capital … had my wife wanted to start a restaurant,” Mr. Vine said.

However, money isn’t all that a restaurant takes from its owners — it takes time, too. Just ask Hyeseon Kim of South Korea, whose husband owned and ran a Japanese restaurant.

“It made all of these different limitations in my life,” she said. “When my husband owned the Japanese restaurant, we didn’t have a life, he was always busy, we didn’t even time to have dinner.

Ms. Kim said her husband was able to sell the restaurant three years ago due to the extra income she was making from Amway, and, although he still works, she has noticed a huge difference in their life.

“It’s a lot less stressful now,” she said. “Without Amway, the restaurant was our life. We did not have any choices, we could not have a vacation. Now we can have a vacation, and have family get together, and my husband has become healthier.”

Ms. Kim, who has been selling Amway for 5½ years, expressed the same sense of achievement and satisfaction as Ms. Sin did.

“I want to be successful,” she said. “It’s a company that gives the equal opportunity to any nationality, race, any background. People who work hard, they promise to give them the opportunity for success.”

Mr. Luymes said this is because being an Amway IBO requires a different set of skills from many other jobs.

“In person-to-person business, someone can have an opportunity who doesn’t have a lot of opportunities in the English-speaking communities,” he said. “For a career like this, it’s about who they know as opposed to what they know or how well they can speak English.”

Ms. Kim said she expanded her Amway business enough to quit her job at a finance company in April.

“It gives me the time and the money to do what I want,” she said. “I can focus on the Amway business and family.”

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