Karen Scheinecker could not bring herself to leave Hong Kong after a six-month posting in 1996, so she resigned her position as Asia-Pacific marketing manager for a large Australian veterinary product wholesaler and set up her own business.
Thirteen years on, Ms Scheinecker is a leading light in the elite equestrian industry across Greater China. Her thriving animal health company, Garesch International Ltd, is a multimillion-dollar enterprise, employing 10 people and exporting to eight countries. Along the way, Ms Scheinecker has married, had a child and, more recently, launched ROSARINI, a line of women’s clothing. She believes it wouldn’t have been possible anywhere but Hong Kong.
Her role as marketing manager had taken Ms Scheinecker all over Asia, and she soon realised that “my future was in Hong Kong.” Apart from being the best base for servicing clients across the region, she had “fallen in love with the fast pace of life.”
The business began as a go-between, sourcing Australian veterinary products for the Hong Kong veterinary industry. Early clients included private vets, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Police Dog Unit.
Armed with “the best training I could wish for” from her former boss, a successful entrepreneur, Ms Scheinecker made good use of her natural rapport with Asian customers. She forged new ground, promoting veterinary dentistry, which was then in its early stages of development, and the latest in animal anaesthetics.
Ms Scheinecker’s first move into elite equestrian circles began with her selling Equistro, a special range of German equine feed supplements. “This brand has been the official supplier of the German Olympic Committee for Equestrian Sports since 1987, and is responsible for supplying German riding, driving and showjumping horses at Olympic, World and European Championships,” she said. By now Garesch International was supplying the horse-racing market in Hong Kong.
“My first contact from China was a man from Beijing – Huang Zuping,” Ms Scheinecker recalled. “He was new to the equestrian world, but I could sense early on that he had a great love and desire to learn all he could about taking care of his horses.”
Mr Huang talked about his dream of being the first showjumper to represent China in the Olympics. Garesch sponsored him, and he moved to Europe to train. In 2008, the rider achieved his dream when Hong Kong hosted the equestrian events of the Beijing Olympics.
Ms Scheinecker will never forget that day. “As Olympic fever enveloped Hong Kong, I thought, ‘here I am, a girl from Australia, who helped someone from the Chinese mainland get to the Olympics.’ The world really is a wonderful place.”
Her client base on the mainland grew as she was introduced to wealthy horse owners living on private estates. She worked with the China Equestrian Federation, sponsored the China showjumping and dressage teams, and supplied feed supplements and products for horses competing at the Asian Games in Korea. In 2003, Ms Scheinecker became the first person to register a foreign equine feed supplement on the Chinese mainland. “This was an achievement that I am still congratulated on today,” she said.
From her Hong Kong office, Ms Scheinecker has developed a large network across Asia, exporting to Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia, the mainland, Singapore and the Middle East. This was possible, she said, because of Hong Kong’s can-do attitude. “There are so many things every day that I get a kick out of – like waking up in the morning and deciding I want to do a promotion on a particular product, and I can have graphics, print and brochures all done in a day.”
Hong Kong’s business-friendly environment and the strong work ethic of her staff also enabled the entrepreneur to realise her next venture. With the equine business thriving, Ms Scheinecker began to think about the limited choice of western-size clothes for women in Hong Kong. “Three years ago, while pregnant and trying to find maternity clothes and once again struggling to find my size, I thought, okay, someone needs to do something about this!”
She sourced fabric from an international textiles fair at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and found a factory in Guangzhou that would manufacture small quantities to a high standard.
Only in Hong Kong
Even though her retail outlet is on the eighth floor of a commercial building, word soon spread. “In any other place, this would simply not work, but here, it’s quite common,” she said. “Word of mouth is a wonderful form of advertising and, as our network grows, we see sales going from strength to strength. We are now doing export orders and our web sales are increasing. “
The veterinary side of the business is expanding, too. “For example, we recently launched a new Australian dog treat,” Ms Scheinecker said. “As it was my first experience of importing a dog food, I wanted to investigate all the local regulations and any special requirements that might be involved. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council made everything extremely simple and clear. It provided peace of mind that we were doing what was required. To me, as a small business, that is the most valuable assistance.”
This all proves, she says, that in Hong Kong “anything is possible.”
“I often feel like a day in Hong Kong is equal to a week anywhere else. I know that living in Hong Kong allows me the opportunity to have it all. My assistant left the office at 9.30 last night and told me not to work too hard, but my secret is that it’s not really work when you love how you spend your day. I just wish I could work out how to make the days longer.”