Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month gives us an opportunity to elevate the stories of women business owners in our network that bring Asian history, culture, and value to our regional economies in New York and DC.
When asked about how her heritage has informed her success, Wendy Shen — President/CEO of gift and accessory merchandise brand, Nygala Corp. — points to a lifelong dedication to continuous education.
“Education is a big, important part of Asian culture,” says Wendy, who arrived in New York in the mid 80s to study business, inspired by generations of business ownership in her family, beginning with her grandfather who made and sold candy in Taiwan.
During her studies, she became interested in the differences between trade and commerce in Asia and North America and why many Asian companies weren’t breaking into the U.S. market, including her own family’s novelty items business, FLOMO.
“I asked myself, ‘how come, my parents sold a lot of products in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, but didn’t sell to the U.S. market?’”, says Wendy. This question compelled Wendy to change her major from accounting to marketing, and ultimately, pursue a master’s thesis exploring best practices for conducting business in the U.S.
In the early 90s, she opened a business out of a small warehouse in New Jersey. This new venture, Nygala Corp./FLOMO, expanded on her family’s stationary business to include party supplies and holiday products.
“I started a business from scratch,” says Wendy. I rented 200 sq ft of office space and started to be a person of everything in the office: cleaner and salesperson, secretary, accountant, janitor, salesperson, at the same time doing the MBA full time.”
“Business was hard for the first 10 years,” she says. “People minimize you..they would walk into [our trade booths] and say, ‘who is the boss, I want to talk to them’, and [then] walk up to the white male to talk to them.
Despite the challenges she faced as a female business owner of Asian heritage, Wendy’s business continued to grow, and overtime, she adapted her product lineup to accommodate what she observed to be the preferences of the American consumer. Nygala expanded into party supplies, offering high-quality gift bags, tissue paper, and gift wrap, among an expansive range of accessories and decorative items.
“We’re a celebration company,” says Wendy.
A major boost in her business at an early stage came when Wendy partnered with one of the biggest entertainment brands in the world, Disney.
“Getting Disney took 18 months: I did phone calls — I’m passionate, I’m persistent, and I kept on calling. My [trick to sounding more established] was I had to disguise my voice — I acted like someone else to be my secretary and then handed off [the phone] in a deep voice.”
Today, Nygala is the number one source for premium-quality, super-value priced gift and accessory merchandise, retailing more than 8,000 unique items in their 10,000+ sq. ft showroom in Moonachie, New Jersey. They also have an additional 100,000+ sq. ft. of warehouse space where they ship products to retailers domestically and abroad. During the pandemic, Wendy once again expanded her business’s product offerings and started retailing journals and arts and crafts items.
Wendy attributes her company’s success to her belief in education and constant desire to learn.
I’m a lifetime learner, she says, noting that learning is the foundation of remaining relevant as a business owner, and of being respected by your peers and team members. “I tell people that respect doesn’t come from your last name. Respect doesn’t come from your heritage, you have to gain your respect.”
For aspiring women in business, Wendy says that pushing yourself to learn new concepts both within and outside of your sector is key to innovating in ways that will make you and your business standout. She also believes passion is foundational to success.
“I think if this is something you would like to do or not: you have to have a passion and dream. Passion is so important. If you’re not interested in something, don’t do it,” she says.
This passion is evident in the nonprofit Wendy and her family operate which merges her strong belief in the transformative power of education with practical skills required to succeed in business.
Established in 2004 by Wendy’s father, Mr. Flomo Shen, FLOMO Educational Foundation serves underprivileged kids in Taiwan by offering free English instruction to help students be more competitive, both at home and internationally.
Between her philanthropy and managing an ever-growing business, Wendy is a busy woman. Despite this, she still manages to prioritize fun.
“I run a company like a family, we celebrate a lot of things together. One of our core values is celebration, says Wendy.