Yang Qunhui, 28, a graduate of Chengdu University of Information Technology, Sichuan Province, gave up her job with a monthly salary of 20,000 yuan ($3,014) at a listed electronic commerce company, but has started her own restroom-ad business with five other graduates, becoming a "restroom queen."
The company, established in May, is presently the only one of its kind in Chengdu.
It has two goals: to find suitable restrooms to place ads and to find clients who are willing to put their ads in them.
"We now focus on finding restrooms to place the ads. A larger location range ensures more ad sources," said Yang.
Yang got the idea to run the company one year ago when she looked for toilet maintenance information on the Internet but wound up noticing companies in Beijing and Shanghai doing restroom ads.
"It's so interesting," she said. "Everyone has their dream. Mine is to start my own business and do something I like."
After some research, Yang found the advantages of restroom ads. They are low-cost, making it easier to find clients. "Most private enterprises are middle or small-sized ones. Cheap ad channels are an ideal choice."
Another advantage, she said, is that people tend to remember words and messages they've seen while sitting or standing in the loo.
Yang said sitting on a toilet, one usually feels bored and even an old newspaper helps kill the time.
"Most people think an ad is effective as long as it is read, however, the ad works only when it is remembered by readers," she said.
Paying the price
Yang sold the house she had bought a year ago to invest in the company. However, money was only part of the difficulty.
In the beginning, Yang and her five partners visited nearly all the restaurants on Chengdu's Kehua north road to research demand for their business.
"Out of 100 restaurants, only one or two agreed to place ads in their restrooms," said Yang. "But we know impulse alone is not enough to start a business. We need to be persistent."
She recalled a hotel manager who loudly interrupted her pitch by suddenly shouting, "We don't need ads in our restrooms!"
"I was really embarrassed at being yelled at in front of so many waiters and waitresses," she said. "But thinking of how much hard work and preparation we six had done, I returned to him and said, 'It doesn't matter if you cooperate this time or not. As long as you go on running this hotel, we will see a day of cooperation.'"
Bringing culture to the crapper
Using culture to promote the ads' commercial value is the core spirit of Yang's company, and also a tool to compete with the others who sell restroom ad space.
For example, in a teahouse restroom with six urinals, most companies install only one decorative frame to hold an ad, in order to keep costs down.
But Yang's team install six free frames over each urinal. When there is no ad, they come up with a topic and turn it into a series of decorative themes to fill the space, such as tea culture.
"The frames are installed for free. When there are ads, we change the pictures into ads and pay the teahouse owner a commission as rent," Yang told the Global Times.
"As young people, we hope our ideas and new thoughts could bring cultural elements to the whole restroom ad business," said Tao Yeqiu, a member of Yang's team.
In August, Alibaba.com's Trustpass offered 280 ads to Yang's company. The six put the ads in the restrooms of clubs and office buildings with more businessmen.
"The feedback was good. The manager of the company told us that many people who read the ads in the restrooms called to inquire about business. Ads in the restroom work," said Tao.
The team also personalize their service and have placed marriage-seeking ads in more than 70 restrooms in a shopping mall. Recently, a man who placed one called Yang to tell her that more than 100 women had contacted him after seeing his plea.
The company has about 10 clients and profits are slim after salaries are paid and free frames are made and installed, but Yang said she is optimistic.
"We have research statistics on 1,058 middle and high-grade businesses in Chengdu, and found locations suitable for ads. I hope by the end of the year, we could fulfill our original target of 5,726," she said.
Yang had advice for students who want to start their own business.
"Government funds and professional guidance from business experts to learn how to open a certain market are both necessary," she said.
"But I think students also need the government to provide them more fresh business ideas, since there are so many new industries waiting to be further explored and developed, just like the restroom ad business," she added.