WHAT’S IN A CRIB? MILLION DOLLAR BABY GROWS UP FAST
BY LISA STAHL
The American dream may feel like a footnote in history texts to those hit hard in recent times. But for Chinese American Daniel Fong, life in America is still the stuff of dreams. In the last ten years, despite a recent global recession, he’s taken a family business and built it into one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. Fong speaks proudly of the grassroots success of his venture, Million Dollar Baby, and of manufacturing the safest cribs for babies on the American market.
Born in Hong Kong and educated in U.S. prep school and Harvard, Fong moved to Los Angeles in 1989. “It was God’s plan,” he says. “I found this elderly couple ... and bought their business.” Fong turned their operation into a multimillion-dollar business. His homespun recipe requires key ingredients from East and West.
Fong manufactures his cribs overseas, which certainly doesn’t mean lesser quality. As the creative cribmaker sees it, his crib
is the sturdiest and safest on the market. “We not only meet stringent standards; we surpass them. We’re the only crib company in the U.S. that has a zero recall. Our product is the safest in the world,” he says.
Doing this has required building a longstanding relationship with two factories in Taiwan. “These factories do not do business with anyone else,” he reveals. “This gives a real competitive advantage.” It also results in a dependably strong and sturdy baby crib.
Fong is a minor marketing genius. Without a traditional business plan, he has relied on word-of-mouth — not advertising — to generate business. But he was also quick to identify the marketing potential of the Internet. “We were the first to address Internet sales ten years ago,” says Fong. The company’s exclusively Internet brand is DaVinci, essentially a mail-order business. “It’s a really strong product line. We’re really proud of it.”
His success could be called the perfect mix of go-getter attitude and fresh ideas. “We were the first company to manufacture black cribs a few years ago. They’ve been very successful and are still going strong. No one thought of black being an appropriate color for baby cribs,” says Fong.
They were also the first to come out with the mini-crib. “We’re still the first in that category which allows grandparents to have a nice looking crib for their grandchil- dren instead of a flimsy portable folding one,” he asserts.
For inspiration, Fong travels the world in search of creative ideas. But he’s particularly drawn to European designers — French and Italian. Some designers — like Patrick Jouin and Philippe Starck — have proven truly inspirational. Influenced by contemporary art, European designers push the envelope of style, says Fong; they mix different materials to match creative design with utility. The influence has rubbed off: Fong does all his own design in-house.
Million Dollar Baby is still a family business, but with annual sales of $50 million — grown from just $10 million ten years ago — and offices in China, Hong Kong, Atlanta and California, the company is growing up fast.
In essence, Fong has built a bridge between at least two cultures, combining the talents of each. This may be just the recipe for the next generation of entrepreneurs.