She did not dare to say she was a bridge for any enterprise to do business in Cambodia, but she will always try her best. Vinamart specializes in trading Vietnamese goods, where she can help enterprises promote their products. She enthusiastically shared her insights on the Cambodian market:

The first time I went to Cambodia, Vietnamese goods were unfamiliar to people here, while Thai and Chinese goods were everywhere.

Vietnamese goods exported through official channels are disadvantaged because of very high import tax and many costly procedures. Therefore, when the products reach consumers, prices are raised, sometimes higher than Thai and Chinese goods of the same type.

If you choose pay full tax import to Cambodia, you must transport them by containers. Some businesses still choose border trade, the cost is reduced and the number of goods transferred is flexible. But if you import via border trade, you can only bring goods to wholesale markets.

To thrive in Cambodian market, there must be a stable legal, reasonable import tax, which depends on the two countries’s Government.

On the businesses’s side, want to “win” in the Cambodian market, the product labels should have Khmer language. In the first step, some businesses cooperating with Vinamart were afraid to spend a lot of money on this. They said that, just bringing products to familiarize the market, that is not necessary. They kept thinking like that, so the product was only printed in Vietnamese, making it difficult to penetrate the Cambodian market, especially with cosmetics and foods.

Businesses also need to know that besides the indigenous population, there are many people of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai descent in Cambodia. Therefore, when bringing goods to Cambodia you should pay attention to residential areas.

Cambodians love cheap goods with beautiful designs and striking colors. Especially during the Lunar New Year, the more they like red and yellow goods, including clothes and jewelry. Cambodians love perfumes, the products of Saigon Cosmetics Joint Stock Company sell quite well thanks to affordable prices.

Cambodian retailers neither know how to display goods in markets and shops beautifully, nor show buyers a variety of goods. They often give preference to promotional items, so suppliers have to spend extra money for their goods to be displayed on the front.

Cambodian people are greatly affected by advertising. If they listen or see an ads on TV / radio, then they will find and buy the product. Many Vietnamese businesses have not grasped this point, so if they bring products to Cambodia, they will be consigned to the sellers.

– Listen to what you’ve just shared, it feels like you are understand the Cambodian market very well. How long have you been working in Cambodia?

I have been in Cambodia for 7 years. In 2000, after graduated from Economic Development Department of Hue University, I went to Saigon to work for a company, which has a representative office in Cambodia, specializing in transporting goods to Cambodia.

In 2002, my boss asked me to go to Cambodia to work because he realized that I was good at business. At that time, the company in Cambodia had only 5 key members, and I was the only woman. I take on the role of financial management and payment of goods.

This company set up a showroom to display Vietnamese products. Besides, there is also a Vietnamese noodle shop, which opened since 1999.

At that time, my boss went to Cambodia and realized that Vietnamese food was rarely found here. Cambodians love to eat sweets, their dishes do not suit his taste, so he decided to open a noodle shop.

Thanks to this noodle shop, he met many Vietnamese who also missed their homeland’s food but could not comeback  home. Pho restaurant is increasingly crowded, so it was developed into Vina Pho restaurant.

Later, the showroom of Vietnamese goods developed into a Vinamart supermarket. Saigon Co.op has sent people to support us on how to display products and how to manage the supermarket business. I also returned to Vietnam, went to Saigon Co.op for two months, learned some experiences.

In 2005, my manager wanted to focus on other things so he transferred me the supermarket and the restaurant in Cambodia.

I founded V&C Import-Export Company and owned both Vinamart and the restaurant. In Vietnam, I set up Viet Cam Co., Ltd, specializing in dealing with domestic enterprises and purchasing goods.

Vinamart supermarket on Monrivong street, Phnom Penh

– A girl who accepts work away from home. At that time, was it because of a high salary or you wanted to challenge yourself? Is your business going well right now?

In the past, I just wanted to explore Cambodia. Unexpectedly, after arrived, I was “stuck” there. I always wanted to challenge myself. When I just graduated from university, my father wanted me to stay at home to work, but my mother supported me to go to Saigon. I wanted to try and went to Saigon.

When I first came to Cambodia, I faced a lot of difficulties because I did not know Khmer. I tried to communicate with customers to learn how to speak. Then, I met peoples who can speak Khmer well, talk to them and ask them to correct the pronunciation.

I still remember when I first came to Cambodia, I was hit by a car and I kept saying “ocun” (thank you) continuously because I thought it meant “it’s okay”!

I was fortunate to have the help of the Vietnamese Embassy and Commercial Counselor in Cambodia. Every time the ASEAN Fair in Cambodia takes place, they can come to Vinamart to get display products without without going back to Vietnam to contact each manufacturer.

Vinamart is known more and more by businesses, they bring their goods to us, so the goods in the supermarket become rich and diverse. In the Mid-Autumn festival or Tet holiday, there are moon cakes and Tet jams in the supermarket.

On Sundays, I often sell goods in the supermarket to receive customer feedback. A lot of Cambodians travel in Vietnam. They used to buy goods in Vietnam, so when they came back they would ask for the same items.

I pamper my customers as much as possible, when customers wanted to buy a pair of Biti’s shoes that no longer have their feet’s number I made an appointment to the customer, then sent the information to Vietnam and asked them to send back the exactly pair of shoes.

Pho restaurant has been developed into a restaurant. Other than pho, there are many dishes such as Hue beef noodle soup, sour soup, crab soup, braised fish, grilled chicken, hotpots,…

The hotpots of our restaurant is preferred by Cambodians for fresh fish. Every two days, staff in Vietnam buy fresh goby and red tilapia, then transfer to Cambodia.

Every year, Vinamart also organizes an end-year program and talkshow with close customers, inviting them to the restaurant. In 2005, I also made the program “Vietnamese House” along with the Vietnam High Quality Goods Fair, mainly displaying the products of the companies that they are distributing.

– Does your business need to be supported by businesses now?

Besides selling in supermarkets, I also work as a distributor for many Vietnamese goods to retailers in Cambodia. Therefore, I always need Vietnamese businesses to assist in the marketing and implementation of advertising programs such as giving customers a try on weekends.

The most effective form of advertising in Cambodia is on television, if they see something on TV, they will definitely find and buy it.

I plan to create a small house called Vinamart, I will take that house to all the big markets in Cambodia. If businesses need to introduce their products, they can come and register. We will help them to promote the products.

– What do you think about the competitiveness of Vietnamese goods compare with Thai and Chinese goods in Cambodia?

I do not trade many fashion items, but find that An Phuoc and Viet Tien are picky. Fragrances of Saigon Cosmetics sell very well because the price is affordable for buyers, and sellers are easier to make a profit. Vietnamese bags have to compete with Chinese products in terms of price, so Minh Tien and Mr. Vui need to promote their products more widely, letting people know the quality of their products.

Vinamit is delicious, but it is a high-end products so it is not widely sold, while other brands are cheaper and they are sold in many places.

About confectionery, at first I thought that it was okay to sell famous goods. But lately I found out, when choosing a product, I had to know how to calculate the highest profit for the retailer. For example, Thanh Long coconut candy sells well in Vietnam, but it can’t be sold in Cambodia. While Ben Tre coconut candy of Yen Huong or Yen Nhung brands is easier to sell.

Retailers don’t compare prices to see if it’s expensive or cheap, but they count the number of candies in a pack, calculating how much each candy costs, so they can see if it is easy to sell to childrens. If they make a lot of profit then they will buy it.

Therefore, two packages of candy with the same price but a package of 10 candies are easier to sell than a package of 8 pieces. Therefore, confectionery that is not packaged and sold by weight depends on the buyer, sells more than beautifully packaged goods.

Vietnamese products compete more fiercely with Thai goods than Chinese ones, because there is not much Chinese product in Cambodia. However, China has very nasty trick. For example, Vietnamese products have a new model, if they find that the product is selling well, they will produce the exact same product at a very low price.

To stand firm in the Cambodian market, you must make the consumers remember your products. They like cheap goods, but they are afraid to change, they only use the products that they have used before. I always consider how to create a firm position for Vietnamese goods in Cambodia.

– What are your biggest difficulties while doing business in Cambodia?

It is hiring and managing employees. It is difficult to recruit staffs from Vietnam. Those who have just graduated from university, if they don’t have jobs yet, they still come here, but they don’t have the enthusiasm as I was. They don’t want to explore, refuse to learn, just like to follow what is available. While the Cambodian staffs are too honest. You have to guide them over and over again before they can do it.

Vietnamese living in Cambodia are also infected with this characteristic, It’s not that they are lazy, but they do not bear their own attention to make the job better. Once, a customer came to a restaurant to eat pho while watching TV, but our front staff has covered the vision. The customer got angry and told the staff to turn off the TV, he honestly turned it off.

That’s it. I spend a lot of time training the staff, I have to watch every inch. If you want them to do it on their own, you have to do double for them to learn.

Because I am too busy, many businesses need to be consulted but I have not been able to consult them all, which causes damage to my business and for Vietnamese enterprises who want to bring their products to Cambodia. Now that I have hired a manager, I can come back to Vietnam regularly to survey new goods and have time to find new ideas for the operation of Vinamart.

Do you have anything you want to share with businesses that want to do business in Cambodia but also have difficulties in personnel?

From the difficulties that I have encountered in terms of human resources, I think that if it is possible, Vietnamese businesses can come to Cambodia to open Vietnamese language schools for Cambodians and teach Khmer for Vietnamese people, and also teach English, Chinese.

If waiting for Vietnam Overseas Vietnamese Association, it will took a long time before this could be done. As for businesses that want to develop their business in Cambodia, they should take advantage of the Overseas Vietnamese Association and the Embassy so that they can help introduce Cambodian childrens who learn Vietnamese well. The Embassy has a list of Cambodian students who have studied in Vietnam. To “win” in the Cambodian market, you need that team.

– Thank you for the useful sharing. Wish your business in Cambodia growing well and Vinamart supermarket will consume more and more Vietnamese goods – becoming a place to support domestic businesses to promote products to Cambodia.

According to Saigon Entrepreneur Newspaper (No. 70, 2009)

Vietcambiz is pleased to be a part of VietCam – Supporting Vietnamese businesses to develop in the potential Cambodian market.