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An Immigrant’s Story

Cheong Choon Ng knows firsthand what it means it live in the land of opportunity

Page 34-35

By Melissa Anders

Cheong Choon Ng, 45, left his home in Malaysia and came to the United States in the 1990s to study mechanical engineering. He ended up staying in the United States after graduation and spent the next 16 years working in the automotive industry, most recently as a crash safety engineer for Nissan in Farmington Hills.

Then, as he played with his daughters in his Novi home one afternoon in 2010, life changed as he knew it.

Ng and his wife now run a multi-million dollar business selling one of the most popular toys in the world. Kids and teens are using Ng’s Rainbow Loom to create trendy rubber band bracelets and other creations. The bracelets have even been worn by the likes of Pope Francis, Kate Middleton and other celebrities.

Ng didn’t set out to become a millionaire toymaker; he stumbled upon the idea while trying to bond with his daughters, then ages 9 and 12.

“As a dad, you always want to show your kids you’re cool,” Ng said, noting that as his daughters grew older it became more difficult to bond.

“It’s just a simple idea discovered by accident,
but seeing the popularity become worldwide … It’s just
mind blowing.” — Cheong Choon Ng, President, Choon’s Designs

He decided to join in when he saw the girls making bracelets out of ponytail bands. He had linked similar rubber bands to make jump ropes as a child in Malaysia, but found his adult fingers were too big to make the intricate bracelets. So he improvised, fashioning a makeshift loom with a piece of wood and push pins. His daughters were intrigued by the different patterns they could make out of the loom, and soon Ng was making looms for their friends.

His daughter suggested he make a product for sale, so Ng sunk his $10,000 life savings – money meant for his daughters’ college educations – into launching the business.

He started from scratch, designing the loom on PowerPoint and making prototype models out of clay. He even learned the programming language to build his own website.

Ng went into production within about seven months and started assembling the looms and bags of rubber bands at home after ordering the pieces from China. His wife, daughters and friends all helped out with the assembly.

He pitched the product to local craft and toy stores, but struck out since they thought the bracelets were too difficult to make or weren’t interested in carrying something new. His daughters helped make YouTube videos to demonstrate how to make the bracelets, and they relied mostly on online sales. Their big break came when a franchise owner of the Learning Express Toys store called and asked for 24 looms. The owner featured the loom in classes at the store and soon increased her orders.

More stores picked up the loom, including Michaels Stores, which until August had exclusive rights to sell the looms among big box stores. Late last year, the company created the Wonder Loom, which is made in the United States and sold in Walmart and other nationwide stores. The Beadery in Rhode Island manufactures the product under license from Choon’s Designs.

Eventually they had to order the looms pre-assembled from their supplier, and by April 2013 they outgrew their two-car garage and basement. Ng’s company, Choon’s Design, now operates out of a 14,000 square-foot warehouse in Wixom.

The company made about $44 million in U.S. sales last year. Rainbow Looms are now sold in more than 40 countries, with international sales on pace to beat last year’s domestic sales. Choon’s Design employs about 22 people in the United States and about eight people spread among China, Malaysia and Japan. Ng’s brother runs the international office in China.

Choon, who quit his job at Nissan in October 2012, was named Ernst & Young’s Emerging Entrepreneur for the Michigan region this year, and Rainbow Loom won the best activity toy in the 2014 Toy of the Year Awards. He’s been featured in The New York Times, Fortune and several other publications worldwide. Television host Jimmy Kimmel even raised money for charity by auctioning off a patchwork suit made of Rainbow Loom bracelets.

“I’m actually very humbled by this experience,” Ng said. “Because looking back at all this, it’s just a simple idea discovered by accident, but seeing the popularity become worldwide … it’s just mind blowing.”

Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit freelance writer.