Only two years out of university and directing two successful businesses, Iyia Liu is already the epitome of an established entrepreneur. She reveals what led to her success and where she sees the future taking her.
By Billie Cole
In early April 2015, Iyia Liu was scrolling through her Instagram account when she came across a company selling Waist Trainers – corset-like garments that pinch your waist to aid weight loss.
Attempting to buy one from the American-owned company, Iyia found they were expensive and took weeks to arrive in New Zealand. So, of course, the thing to do was to find a supplier, import product and start a business.
Fast-forward 16 months and the 23-year-old now owns and runs two hugely successful businesses, is building herself a house in Auckland, and drives a Mercedes Benz G-Class that she bought herself as a ‘treat’.
“I always think that if I didn’t do everything in the exact way I have done it, then I just wouldn’t have all this. So I feel very lucky,” says Iyia.
However, it doesn’t seem to have been luck that has allowed the Albany local to gain so much success in such a short time. After studying a Bachelor of Commerce at The University of Auckland, majoring in marketing and management, it seems Iyia was destined to go down the path she has.
With a passion for clothing, Iyia originally started her first business I’ll Take All Three at the beginning of 2015. The online clothing boutique primarily sourced pieces from both New Zealand and Australia, as well as the United States and China.
However, the fashion business was not as successful as Iyia had hoped.
“I found it really hard and very competitive. There was so much competition, and if you don’t have a lot of money to put in, you can’t buy stock. I started Waist Trainer NZ Aus not long after I’ll Take All Three and it started to take off - so I stopped the boutique.”
Using her $6000 savings, Iyia sourced waist trainers from a supplier in China and her new business immediately grew, with close to 100,000 waist trainers sold in a little over a year.
“I was never expecting it to go as well as it has. I remember when I started, I made a joke saying, ‘Oh, it would be cool to sell 100,000 waist trainers’.”
And that is exactly what she has done. With 20,000 waist trainers sold to New Zealand customers, 30,000 to Australia, and the rest internationally, the business is now worldwide.
Iyia’s success also came as a surprise to her younger sister Doni, who helps out with administration and logistics part-time for both businesses.
“I remember her telling me she was going to import waist trainers and at the time I thought ‘Oh, that’s weird’. I didn’t think people in New Zealand would actually wear them, and I told her it was a bad idea. But clearly it worked out well for her!” says Doni.
When it comes to why she thinks she is so successful, Iyia is certain about one thing: customer service is number one.
“Every single day I say we have to ship out all of the products on time and respond to customer emails as fast as possible. I think as long as you get the customer service side as good as possible, everything else is going to be fine.”
Iyia employs four full-time staff, all women, all her age. They work in an open plan space in her home, surrounded by waist trainers, as well as product from her most recent business, Luxe Fitness. She says the products have taken over her home and it’s time to expand, with her sights set on a warehouse in Albany.
The protein business
While travelling last year Iyia came up with the idea for Luxe Fitness, her protein and supplements business. She decided it would be a good idea to have another fitness business to run alongside the waist trainers, so chose protein – a business she says is difficult.
“Protein was a lot harder to start. It cost a lot more money and the turn-around time was a lot longer than the waist trainer business.”
Iyia is involved in all aspects of Luxe Fitness – from choosing the ingredients for the recipes to designing the logo for the bottles on Photoshop. She seems to really do it all – something that marketing manager for both businesses, Sherilyn Upton, says is the reason behind her boss’s success.
“Iyia is such a hard worker, and puts everything into her businesses. She is here working before we are here and she is up working until late at night. She is so business savvy – something that some other business owners lack,” says Sherilyn.
Iyia thrives on her work. Even when she is travelling – which she admits has quickly become one of her hobbies – she is always liaising with her employees. Doni says she has a very work-oriented mind-set.
“Even when she went to Europe for a holiday she was emailing me 10 times a day being like ‘can you do this, can you do that’.”
Iyia's travelling has made her realise just how big the two businesses have become. Recently in Croatia a woman came up to her in a nightclub asking if she was the 'waist trainer lady'. Something she says was 'random' but cool, and resulted from the intense marketing she puts into the businesses.
Iyia uses social media to market her products, regularly running competitions as well as paying celebrities such as Kiwi beauty blogger Shaaanxo or reality star Kylie Jenner to promote product.
In order to get Kylie Jenner to post an Instagram picture of herself posing in a waist trainer, it set the businesswoman back just under $300,000.
Last year alone Iyia spent around $500,000 on Facebook advertising for Waist Trainer NZ Aus. In order to get Kylie Jenner to post an Instagram picture of herself posing in a waist trainer, it set the businesswoman back just under $300,000. However, she says it was worth it and within two days of Jenner posting the picture, 2000 waist trainer orders were placed.
“When I first started out I was very cautious about money because I didn’t have much to spend. But now that I have been doing it for over a year, I know what works and have more to spend. I don’t think as much about it anymore.”
Iyia admits she has thought about selling the businesses. She finds comfort in knowing that she could retire by 25 – however, that isn’t something she will do. She likes working too much. For now, she is focusing on expansion, observing other bigger companies and aspiring to be like them.
She says she is happy and that it's great to not worry about money. Her aim is to continue to work hard so she can relax later on.
However, it seems for this businesswoman – who drives to the airport in a Mercedes to travel to Croatia – she is already doing just that.
Billie Cole is a journalism student at AUT.