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CAMILLE HEUNG

Founder & Owner of Valia Honolulu

Success:

Participant in the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center Certification Training Cohort 2. She is in the process of getting her business certified and continuing her newfound balance that she started during the COVID-19 pandemic for being more efficient with her business.

Camille Heung, founder and owner of Valia Honolulu, was selected to participate in the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center Certification Training Cohort 2. She identifies as Chinese and Japanese. Camille holds a History degree and a certificate in Retail Management from the University of Washington. She has over 17 years of experience of retail experience as she worked at multiple boutiques and bigger corporate stores. Camille always knew that she wanted to open up a retail store, so utilizing her experience she finally opened Valia Honolulu in November 2016.

Valia Honolulu is a curated women’s boutique that carries clothing, accessories, kids and stationery products, and much more from local small businesses here in Hawai`i. Camille believes in supporting local businesses and this philosophy is the cornerstone of her branding and buying practices. Moreover, she named included the word Valia in her company name because she values empowering women as well. “Valia is a feminine interpretation of the word ‘valiant’. I really encourage women to be strong, proud, confident, supportive, brave, fearless, and to be comfortable in their own skin!”.

A significant part of Valia Honolulu is to get involved with the community and work with non-profit organizations- including YWCA O`ahu. The YWCA O`ahu is an organization and a building that is near and dear to Camille’s heart because of the personal connection she has with it. “YWCA O`ahu is an organization that’s near to my heart because it’s where my grandparents met. When first telling my grandma that I partnered with YWCA, she told me how special it was for her because of that. My grandma is someone I am very close to, and just knowing how special YWCA is to her makes me feel even happier and connected with the organization!”. After being first introduced to the organization by fellow small business friend Jane Murao, founder and owner of haul2hi, she has consistently been involved by doing fundraisers, partnerships, and participating in programs, such as #SHOPSMALLHAWAII.

“My business friend, Jane Murao, owner of haul2hi, invited me to an event at the YWCA O`ahu where we did tours of the facility and got shown around, as well as learn the history and what YWCA O`ahu does. When seeing the different facilities like the pool, the gym, basketball courts, and Dress for Success was such an eye-opening experience for me because that’s when I saw how impactful this organization has and always will be on the community. I was so in love with this organization from that moment on. Every year for our anniversary, we do a nonprofit type of event instead of doing a huge discount and sale every year, we give back. We partner with YWCA and work something out so we can use our platform to help the communities and the organization. For our first anniversary, we were able to help bring in clothes for the Dress for Success program by marketing that our customers could bring in their clothes to donate and shop around if they wanted after doing so. Lucky for us, I think our customers really understand that about us and they are so giving. They are such amazing customers and are so supportive when it comes to our giving back opportunities. It’s such a rewarding feeling just being able to bring bags and bags of clothing over to the program and just give back in any way we can… Not only are the programs great, but the people who work there are all so nice and great people. They all operate like they are small businesses and have that hustle and drive to get the businesses and programs out there. And some programs get small businesses here in Hawai`i involved and help them get the exposure and help they need, like #SHOPSMALLHAWAII! Even when we as small business owners want to get involved within the organization and do partnerships, they really do treat us like partners and make sure we feel appreciated. They truly accept my suggestions when I bring them up and allow me, as a partner, to act on them. With the transparency, open communication, and having my suggestions actually be heard, it just makes me feel appreciated as a business owner.” –Camille Heung, Founder & Owner, Valia Honolulu

Camille was faced with the challenges of the uncertainties that the COVID-19 lockdown caused. Following the second state lockdown in August 2020, Valia Honolulu didn’t reopen till March 2021 to keep everyone safe. Before the lockdown, she was faced with the obstacle of figuring how to pivot and continue seeing that flow of revenue. This led to making a transition into drastically increasing her online presence both on Valia Honolulu’s website and social media platforms. Camille expresses how thankful she was for already preparing that before the pandemic hit as it made the pivot a lot easier for them.

“Thankfully before the pandemic in 2020, one of my goals was to increase our website presence. So, we already went through the work on uploading items that weren’t previously on the website. Once the pandemic hit, I felt like we were pretty much ready to make that pivot. I feel so blessed that we were able to make that transition from in-person to online so quickly and fairly easily. We also began to collaborate with other local business owners here to push their products through Valia Honolulu, such as partnering with a wedding dress designer to make face masks with her. We also made the switch amongst what kind of products we sold, so we didn’t carry as many clothes but we did increase our stationery and kids’ items. I think this was a great pivot for the long term because people are constantly buying gifts or are always on the lookout for cute stationery items like washi tape. This was a good mental shift because we got to take a different look on how we do business and still do the same amount of business.” –Camille Heung

With the state reopening completely, she looks to keep this newfound balance to continue the efficiency she’s seen within her business. That also means making sure that the safety of both her customers and employees comes first. Valia Honolulu is utilizing their COVID-19 reduced hours, which are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. Despite this, she notes that her customers are still standing loyal and accommodate for this change. Camille is also continuing to look for ways to make her business grow bigger and more efficient.

“We decided to work in some other business tactics that will be more efficient, such as releasing new product launches every Wednesday. I think that this was great for us because we actually got to see how our business was really doing and try to fix some things to make it even better!” –Camille Heung

Another obstacle she currently is facing is to ensure that she is delegating properly amongst her small team for Valia Honolulu. This is something Camille is continuously working on as it would allow her to continue working on her business instead of in it. “One challenge I face is making sure I get things done accordingly with my team. I think I need to be more open to allowing others to provide me some assistance as it would be more efficient for the company. If I can’t do that then I’m not working towards growing my business to where we want it to be!”

Regardless of what challenges or obstacles are thrown at her, she continues to love her business because of her customers. Camille finds that the most rewarding moments are when she sees the reviews and posts on Yelp and Instagram from her customers. She also loves the relationships she can create with her customers, especially when they feel comfortable connecting on a deeper level than you typically would while shopping.

“Some rewarding moments for me are when I see customers take their time to write Yelp reviews or comment/post on Instagram just to say thank you for their experience. These are most rewarding because one someone had a great experience but also because they took the time out of their day to say something nice about our business. Another rewarding moment is being able to be that listening ear and creating those relationships with customers to the point where they feel comfortable enough to open up to you a boutique business owner. While working in boutiques growing up, I realized that boutiques kind of provide that environment for customers to maybe open up because it’s so small and close-knit, and they may talk about things that they may not feel comfortable sharing with others. To have this kind of relationship with customers is something very natural and normal to me because it’s what I learned over the years in working in retail.” – Camille Heung

When first hearing about the certification training cohorts the MBDA EWOC Business Center offered and the statistics of federal contracts from Terri Funakoshi, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of YWCA O`ahu, she knew it wasn’t something she couldn’t pass up! Camille grew excited and spread the word around to a few of her small business friends. “I was at YWCA O`ahu to pick up some things and Terri mentioned that they just started the inaugural cohort and also mentioned the statistics for small businesses here and federal contracts. I told her right away to please let me know when it’s available to apply for the next one because I had no idea that a business had to get certified to qualify for any type of federal contracts. And I think that’s the case for a lot of small business owners here in Hawai`i. I actually reached out to my small business friends as well, such as Jane Murao and Marie Lau, owner of Hokulani Bakeshop. I told them all about the different statistics Terri mentioned and the opportunity you guys have provided the state with!”.

Camille has started her certification process to get Valia Honolulu certified. With getting certified, she aspires to land bigger opportunities and contracts with corporations to get both her business, as well as the local small businesses vendors, on the map.

“We’ve had customers come in the past looking for wardrobe for tv shows and movies, or corporate gifting ideas! I know it’ll be a bit different since we aren’t the wholesalers but I still think it’s something to go for. And one day I want to make sure we can get those [local small business vendors] certified as well! Hawai`i needs to continue this flow you guys have started!” –Camille Heung

With Valia Honolulu’s 5th anniversary is around the corner in November 2021 she has some big things in store! Soon Camille wants to be able to launch their line for both clothing and accessories since it was one of her goals as well. She firmly believes that this year is the perfect year to finally achieve these goals!

Camille’s piece of advice to aspiring women small business owners:

“There are so many aspects of the business we think of naturally because of the numbers and things like that. But a lot of the time entrepreneurs and business owners neglect to build that support system and I think that’s something that has helped me the most during my small business journey as well. It can get pretty lonely and it’s really important to make sure you have those people to talk with. Make sure you find those support systems, network with other small business owners, and make those connections to build those relationships so you can talk with them for advice, tips, or even vent something out!”.