Mattress entrepreneur forced to find other work to stay in Halifax

An international student from China, who started a $200,000 business selling mattresses out of his Halifax apartment, says he's been told by the government that if he wants to be a permanent resident he'll have to work for somebody else.

'They call me the mattress man,' says Chen Qing, who graduated from Saint Mary's University

Chen Qing poses with his mattresses in his penthouse showroom. (Courtesy Chen Qing)

An international student from China, who started a $200,000 business selling mattresses out of his Halifax apartment, says he's been told by the government that if he wants to be a permanent resident he'll have to work for somebody else.

Chen Qing moved to Canada in 2009. While studying business at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, he went from selling his possessions online to operating a mattress and furniture showroom out of a penthouse on South Street.

Qing said it all started with two movie tickets he won.

"I didn't have a girlfriend at the time. I was thinking I should probably sell it instead of going to the movie," he told Stephanie Domet on Mainstreet.

I don't understand why there's no such stream to help young entrepreneurs like me settle down in Halifax.- Chen Qing

He put them on an online classifieds site — similar to Kijiji — used by Chinese students living in Halifax, and was able to flip his movie tickets in 20 minutes.

"That really impressed me," he said.

So Qing started selling items in his apartment, including his former roommate's old vacuum. He bought a second hand mattress for $20, posted it online and sold it for $140.

"I realized mattresses have the most profit," he said.

After flipping used mattresses out of his apartment, Qing contacted Sealy Canada and, after a bit of back and forth, they agreed to sell to him directly because of his customer base.

"Pretty much most Chinese students [in Halifax], they buy their mattress from me," he said. "They call me the mattress man."

Qing now carries mattresses from 10 suppliers and runs a showroom called Hometown Furniture and Mattress Ltd. out of a penthouse unit. He said he sold approximately 384 mattresses last year.

Immigration woes

Qing graduated from Saint Mary's University in January. He said he likes Halifax and wants to stay to continue to grow his business.

But he soon found out if he wants to be a permanent resident he needs to get a full-time job — and work for someone else, not himself.

"I can't apply based on my own company," Qing said. "I was quite surprised actually."

The irony is Hometown Furniture and Mattress Ltd. is doing so well, Qing has hired a Canadian sales representative to work with him.

Qing said there's no path in Nova Scotia to encourage young international students to apply for permanent residency as an entrepreneur.

"The Canadian government and the Nova Scotia government, they like — they want — some young, passionate entrepreneurs or skillful young students to stay in Canada. They want my kind of person," Qing said.

So far Qing has applied for a work permit. He says he'll need to sell one of his businesses — he also runs a Chinese media company — in order to work for someone else.

"Business is business but I see business as my son. It's very sad if I'll have to sell this business. But I have to. There's no choice for me," he said.

"I don't understand why there's no such stream to help young entrepreneurs like me settle down in Halifax."

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