Origin Stories: Meet SF Fed’s Diverse Suppliers
Caron Ng, NU-SET

An employee inside of a shop holding up an 'OPEN' sign

The SF Fed is ramping up our commitment to supplier diversity by setting an audacious goal: increasing our annual spend on diverse suppliers from $22 million in 2020 to $30 million within the next five calendar years. This work is part of the Bank’s Framework for Change, our commitment to taking action that will result in greater racial and ethnic equity in our organization and the communities we serve.

To spotlight small, local, and diverse businesses—those owned by women, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people—that help our communities thrive, we are sharing the stories of a few of the Bank’s diverse supplier partners. Read our previous profiles on Sheridan Group and Decor Interior Design.

NU-SET Inc. is a third-generation family-owned business established over 50 years ago that has since become a customized lock solutions provider servicing clients globally. CEO Caron Ng spoke with Aminatu Yusuf from SF Fed’s Supplier Diversity and Business Partners team about her rise through the ranks of NU-SET, the current landscape as a business owner, and how she’s thinking about the future.

Aminatu Yusuf: How did you get involved in your family business?

Caron Ng: I attended UC Berkeley, and as soon as I graduated, I was drafted into our family business—a far cry from my major, which was English literature. With no business background, I wasn’t really prepared for what was ahead. I had to do a lot of learning and failing as I worked my way up.

In 2017, I spun off NU-SET from our parent company to establish NU-SET Inc. as its own company, with the goal of exploring the digital side of our security solutions. Today, we are the only certified women-owned lock manufacturer in the U.S. and sell our products on a lot of the big e-commerce sites and in home improvement stores.

Caron Ng and her team assemble locks in a warehouse.
Caron Ng and her team assemble locks in a warehouse.

Aminatu: As you know, inflation is top of mind for most Americans right now. How have rising prices affected your business? Have you felt any wage pressures?

Caron: It’s been a rollercoaster. It’s not just inflation—in general, the cost of doing business has increased dramatically. We manufacture raw materials and everything in between. Freight costs have risen, and it’s been difficult.

We have been able to increase the price on some of our products. But for others, we haven’t. If you all of a sudden have a price hike, the consumer may not be able to absorb it. So we work with our customers on pricing. It does affect our bottom line. But the good news is that our top line has also been increasing, because there’s more demand for our products and e-commerce has been booming for our business.

We do want to hire more people, but everyone is looking for workers right now. It’s very competitive. We adjusted our wages to be more proactive—we can’t provide a signing bonus like some big corporations, but we raised wages to show that we care. We want to make sure that our team is provided for, so they don’t have to look for a second job or third job. We come at it from that perspective, and most of our people have been with us for a very long time.

Aminatu: How did your engagement with the San Francisco Fed begin?

Caron: I’m certified as a woman-owned business and as a minority-owned business, and certification has two benefits: education and connections. If I didn’t join Women’s Business Enterprise Council (WBEC)-West, a regional partner organization of Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, or if I wasn’t certified as a woman-owned business, I might not have gotten connected with the SF Fed.

I think our engagement began around 2017. That’s when I started to hear about opportunities with the Bank. I bid on a couple of opportunities that I didn’t win because it wasn’t the best fit, but through that process, I learned what to do. In 2020, when the SF Fed had personal protective equipment (PPE) needs, we were able to successfully meet the challenge, as we had pivoted to providing PPE for our clients during the pandemic.

Aminatu: How are you thinking about your business and growing your business right now?

Caron: Our business model has changed completely since the pandemic. E-commerce platforms have helped us grow quickly, but our infrastructure and back-end operations have had to catch up. We’re growing within each of our e-commerce retail partnerships, and we’re doing so because we can duplicate our model from one place to another. We expect that growth to continue in 2022.

We have also gained quite a number of clients overseas, which is exciting. We have platforms where you can buy our products from anywhere and with our shipping capabilities, we can ship anywhere.

Aminatu: What advice would you give to other small business owners, or those who are just starting out?

Caron: In these times, my advice would be to overprepare a bit. Things will be better eventually in terms of inflation. But in the meantime, it’s better to be prepared, to be more agile in how you source and make your products. That way, you continue to have that competitive edge.

Owning your own business is a 24/7 job, and it’s not as glamorous as we think. But I think the journey is wonderful because the community of women business owners is wonderful. I have all my best friends in that circle, and we bounce off ideas with each other. I think that is priceless.

Headshot of Caron Ng, CEO of NU-SET Inc.
Caron Ng, CEO of NU-SET Inc.

Caron Ng is CEO of NU-SET, a global lock manufacturing division formed to digitally transform a third-generation business empire. Caron has received numerous recognitions, including the 2020 IWEC International Business Award, 2020 WBEC-WEST Supplier of the Year Award, and 2021 LA Lakers/Comerica Bank “Woman of Entrepreneurship” Award. An active member of the community, Caron serves on WBENC’s National Leadership Forum, the Board of Directors for YWCA Greater Los Angeles, and as an ambassador for the Goldman Sachs 10k Small Business Program.

Aminatu Yusuf is the assistant manager within the Supplier Diversity & Business Partners group at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.