For The Wok Shop owner Tane Chan, selling the staple Chinese cookware is more than just a livelihood. Her life’s passion is making woks available to customers far beyond her San Francisco shop.
“I want everybody to have a wok. I want you to have a wok! Woks are for all walks of life,” Chan laughs. “It's an incredible cooking vessel—first of all it's very affordable. It's practical. It's versatile and it lasts a lifetime. And it gets better with age. Just like me.”
When The Wok Shop went online in 1999, Chan was skeptical. Her San Francisco-based cookery store had been around since 1972, but she’d never seen anything like the e-commerce model of business before. While Chan was a natural at providing excellent customer service in the brick-and-mortar environment, she wasn’t sure how this would translate in the digital world. But with the urging of her son, Chan decided to take a chance on this new way of doing business.
“I thought to myself, how did people trust this little website to send them woks from Chinatown?” Chan confides. “These customers from all over are trusting us. Who am I? I'm just a little store in Chinatown, San Francisco. I've got to prove myself and I have to impart to them that we're trustworthy and honest.”
Relying on her son’s expertise in the online business realm, The Wok Shop built a solid search engine optimization strategy. Through thoughtfully selected keywords and her own hard work, the entrepreneur made a name for herself in the e-commerce space, shipping woks and cooking supplies all over the U.S. The Wok Shop now gets more business online than from walk-in customers. So Chan and her team grew quite comfortable with shipping her shop’s wares with the help of FedEx—until one day when an unexpected order came in from across the globe.
“Our orders are mostly domestic, once in a while international. We recently got an order from Croatia. Well, that blew my mind. I said, ‘Woks in Croatia? Let's pack it up and let's send it with FedEx. We're sending it to the other side of the world,’” Chan recalls. Paying with her Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN on eligible shipping with FedEx also gets Chan a statement credit.
Chan spreads the fun of her quirky shop by tossing tchotchkes in every order, packing with newspaper from China and sending personalized emails to customers—touches that give shoppers who’ve never even set foot in San Francisco a little taste of Chinatown.
“We always include a backscratcher in the order,” Chan adds. “Chinatown's known for backscratchers, and I'll say, ‘You’ve scratched my back, let me scratch yours.’ The customers love it. And it just makes a statement and they’ll remember us. That’s what I want. We appreciate their business.”
Hear more stories from the Next Big Step series.