BY MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer
No matter where she looked or how much she was willing to spend, Barb Gambill could not find books or toys for her two adopted daughters from China.
Then the Evendale mother found Master Communications, a company started by a former Procter & Gamble marketing specialist, Selina Yoon, in her Hyde Park home. The company distributes thousands of Asian-oriented books, games and toys listed in its catalog "Asia for Kids".
"Now my daughters have dolls that look like them," Ms. Gambill says. "Now they have books with illustrations that look like them." In its fourth year, "Asia for Kids" is meeting the cultural and educational needs of the Gambills and thousands of other parents and teachers worldwide.
'ASIA FOR KIDS'
What: Catalog of more than 1,000 Asian-oriented language and culture books, toys and games.|
When: Distributed quarterly. For credit card orders, call (800) 888-9681, 8 a.m.-midnight Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; fax (24 hours): 563-3105.
Where: Mail order to "Asia for Kids," 4480 Lake Forest Drive, Suite 302, Cincinnati 45242. E-mail sales to salesafk.com
Information: Customer service, (800) 765-5885.
Now located in a Blue Ash office park, Ms. Yoon's company ships to all 50 states as well as 22 countries. "Asia for Kids" even ships Chinese-language books to China.
Hers is the only Asian-oriented business in the country that combines educational and toy inventory. Most of Ms. Loon's clients live in the urban areas of California, New York and Illinois. Less than 5 percent of her business is done in the Tristate.
Beginning this month, the bi-annual catalog -- containing more than 1,000 items -- will be updated and distributed quarterly. Circulation tops 200,000. E-mail orders are now accepted. Ms. Yoon figures to turn a profit for the first time this year.
"We could easily be 100 times bigger," says Ms. Yoon, who has an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Before she was a business owner, the Korean-born Ms. Yoon, 39, was a frustrated mother. Retailers on both coasts and overseas had the same request when her searches for an Asian-oriented book or game for her own children came up empty:
"If you find one, can you let me know?"
Her husband, Frederick Chen, is Chinese. He is a professor in operations management at Thomas More College. They have two children, Michael, 8, and Vivian, 6.
Ms. Yoon sells only products she would let her children use. As a result of her selectivity, "Asia for Kids" won the prestigious Parents' Choice Approval in 1995 and 1996 and the endorsement of the Multicultural Education Council.
Her initial plan was to develop her own line of Asian-oriented products, but she had to shelve those plans when she saw that no distribution system existed for them. That's when she went to work to create one.
Adoptions drive demand
Demand continues to increase. Thousands of American families are adopting Asian children. Membership in Southern Ohio Families with Children from China now exceeds 125. Almost all of the children have come to the United States since early 1996.
About 70 percent of "Asia for Kids" customers are white Americans, many of them teachers trying to meet the federal Goals 2000 education initiative that calls for widespread teaching of cultural diversity. Some of the most popular items in her catalog are dolls Ms. Yoon buys from a San Francisco manufacturer. They are distinctively Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese and come with carefully detailed native clothing. Individual dolls and sets sell for between $7 and $90.
The catalog's soul is books. Ms. Yoon imports from Singapore, Australia, Korea and England. Fiction and non-fiction titles for children of many ages detail the history, customs and heroes of Japan, Korea and China. New products are available on southeast Asian nations the likes of Indonesia, Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka.
A series of videos teach newcomers about American holidays and other cultural groups -- Irish-Americans, African-Americans, Jews and American Indians.
Along the way, Ms. Yoon has hired specialists to develop Master Communications' own products, such as a series of "Sing 'n Learn" books, cassettes and compact discs for Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. "Sing 'n Learn Japanese" is under development. Ms. Yoon has four full-time and part-time employees.
Also planned is a "Latin America for Kids" catalog. It will offer products for the many Caribbean and Central and South American cultures.