Devoted Coffique entrepreneur helps produce product in Chinese factory
By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley entrepreneur Sean Rones took an extra step in the manufacturing of his new product Coffique. Rones traveled to China recently to not only oversee the factory work but also take part in it, living and working with them for six weeks.
Instead of being a faceless owner and disconnected with the workers, he told them that no job was beneath him and that he would do anything it took to make the product a success.
In the process, he made connections with his fellow factory workers and developed a greater understanding of their work ethic and drive.
“I gained their respect and they let me into their world. It was like magic. I never thought in six weeks I would get so connected to those people,” Rones said. “I went there to be capitalistic and it just opened me up.”
Rones created Coffique as a sleek alternative for storing single cup coffee maker K-Cup packs after finding nothing suitable for his counter-top on the market. The silver and black holder sits directly under a K-Cup machine with a drawer to hold and hide all of the little coffee cups.
Coffique is now available on the websites of retailers Kohl’s, Coscto, Macy’s, Bon-Ton and Amazon.
Rones has seen sales rise and is hopeful to make a deal with Target soon.
“I’m excited (about Coffique’s success) but not in the way where I want to spend more money or upgrade. It’s tough when you saw what I saw. I think twice now about every little thing,” Rones said.
He has plans now to give back to the families of his factory workers, whether by helping children get to college or through assistance in other ways.
“That’s what the excitement of the product is bringing to me,” Rones said. “Finding ways to give back because this was the gift of what I learned. I want to give back, especially to people in China.”
Since Coffique sales and demand picked up over the last year, Rones found it necessary to travel to China to ensure that production met the demand and to fill a container that would ship the product to the U.S. The units arrived by container last week.
Learning from past dealings with China, he wanted to be on site at the factory, an American-owned factory he selected with very high standards and working conditions.
For six weeks in China, Rones was no different than the factory worker. He lived in the dorms with his fellow workers, which he said is unheard of.
Although he didn’t speak any Chinese, Rones instantly gained 300 friends. His nickname was “Xiong Mao,” which means Panda, and he helped do everything from product assembly to mopping the floor while American rock ’n’ roll music played.
He brought in a coffee maker and made coffee every day for a “tea nation.”
“They didn’t understand it,” Rones said of the coffee.
Rones said he was not a fan of the Chinese food and his coworkers were eager to please — he kindly ate their interesting takes on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After their shifts ended, they congregated to watch TV on a communal set and Rones would buy everyone Cokes. Sometimes they would play badminton or basketball together after work—out of respect, the workers at first took it easy on Rones but soon started to compete.
“It was life moving. It became emotional for me. These people work from 8 a.m. to 10 at night and 80 percent of their salaries goes to their parents out of respect,” said Rones. “It was heartwarming to see them give their money and be so non-selfish and then to think of where and how we live.”
Rones said he would love to see this country’s youth, including his own two children, experience what he did and appreciate the Chinese work ethic and values.
Through his experience working at the American-owned factory with very high standards, he knows he can put an “ethical stamp” on his product. He hopes it will help similar factories raise the bar.
He additionally noted that having manufacturing in China does not take away American jobs. The money made at the WFOE (Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise) is redistributed back into America and he said all kinds of different jobs have now been created here — Rones is hiring in the U.S.
Rones said he plans to return to China and will again live at the factory.
“I’m looking forward to going back,” said Rones. “When I was on the plane in Hong Kong, I was thinking that I got the job done, that I was crossing the world to see my family but already missing my factory family in China.”
For more information, visit www.coffique.com.
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