By Jessica Rohr
Alex B.K. Youn
AC Pacific LLC
One of Saipan’s most prominent businessmen, Alex B.K. Youn, 42, originally hails from South Korea. He came to live in Saipan with his parents in 1987. “I was 11 years old,” Youn says. “There were no traffic lights at the time, and I loved the clean air.”
After graduating from Mt. Carmel School in Saipan, Youn attended college in New Delhi, where he earned a degree in Southeast Asian studies. Although Youn says that India is the most interesting country he’s ever been to, he knew he’d be happier back home in Saipan. So after college, Youn went to work for Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino in 1999.
From 2003 to 2008, he managed and invested in the U.S. Fashion Group, which distributes the Papaya, Everblue and Sports America clothing brands. In 2008, he started his real estate investing and development company, Ace Investment Group LLC, and in 2009, Youn and his business partner, Allen Xie, started AC Pacific LLC and opened their first I Love Saipan store.
“Allen had started to develop I Love Saipan,” Youn says, “then we decided to do the retail store together.” Youn and Xie also developed the I Love Tinian and I Love Rota brands but were too late to get the rights to I Love Guam. The main I Love Saipan store opened on Aug. 8, 2009 next to DFS in Garapan in a building Youn owns.
“We took a pretty big risk because 2009 wasn’t really a good time to start the business.” Japan Airlines had pulled out of Saipan in 2005, which was a huge blow to Saipan’s tourist numbers. “There were people saying that we would go bankrupt in six months.” But AC Pacific beat the odds.
AC Pacific now employs 120 people and has expanded to a total of seven locations, including a café, with another store to be added in June.
Among the challenges of his retail operation are finding employees who specialize in skills like displaying and merchandising and dealing with cultural and language differences among his staff, all of whom speak English as a second language.
“They have different ways of handling the same issues,” he says. To help the employees become comfortable and familiar with one another, the company hosts Monday evening dinner meetings with its managers, as well as parties for its staff every quarter. “About 50 to 60 people show up, and it really helps us to get to know each other,” Youn says. “It’s a good time to get together and have a drink and talk about personal things.”
AC Pacific caters 80% to tourists and 20% to locals, Youn says. “Our dependence on tourism is very high.” For the benefit of his multilingual customer base, Youn’s company developed the “I Love Saipan” app two years ago, which allows customers to scan product codes and get a translation of the products’ descriptions in Korean, Chinese, Japanese or English. “It’s a great app because, with language barriers, our employees can’t explain every single item to our customers,” Youn says. The app is one of Youn’s creative marketing strategies.
The company’s initial lack of marketing funds led to Youn coming up with interesting ways to draw attention to its first location. The local dance show Youn started in front of the store, which still happens every evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., is one of his strategies to attract tourists into the store.
Additionally, the company designs and manufactures its own products, rather than buying from wholesalers. “We do private labeling and brand development. We have chocolate boxes that we make in Hawaii that we import by container every month,” he says.
Outside of retail, Youn is working on a construction project. “I’m building small-scale townhouses,” he says. “Eleven units. We are in the designing stage. Saipan is short on accommodations right now.” He hopes to complete the project by the end of 2017.
Youn serves on the board of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce — which named him the Business Person of the Year in 2015 — and participates in mentorship events for young business people of the NMI. Youn, who has a blackbelt in Taekwondo, is also the vice president of the Korean Taekwondo Association of Saipan, which promotes Korean culture in Saipan to the local community. The group attends different festivals in Saipan to give demonstrations.
Although Youn is very active in business and the community, he says he loves to be at home with his family or in the office. Youn reads whenever he has extra time and travels often to Korea and Hawaii with his wife and son. n
Favorite app: Amazon.com and Uber
Favorite Pandora station: K-pop and American pop
Currently reading: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” by Klaus Schwab
Last vacation: A Caribbean cruise two years ago to the U.S. Virgin Island, Puerto Rico and some private islands
How I take my coffee: “My friend in California sent me a box of the Starbucks coffee capsules.”
Best bit of business advice: “Think differently from other people because if you think the same way as others, you can’t make a difference.”
Childhood dream job: Lobbyist