How this Entrepreneur in Vietnam Expanded Her Family Business - CARE

How this Woman Entrepreneur in Vietnam Took Her Family Business to the Next Level

Nguyen Thi Hien sites at her desk, surrounded by canned goods.

CARE

CARE

Despite her young age, Nguyen Thi Hien from Hanoi, Vietnam, is taking the business world by storm.

Five years ago, at the age of only 21, Hien, together with her cousin, took over the family business, Truong Foods from her aunt. The family has been producing and trading specialist pork products for almost 20 years.

Since taking over the company, Hien has established the business in both Phu Tho province and in the capital of Hanoi. Between the two locations, she now employs 15 office staff, as well as around 30 seasonal workers.

As the new Managing Director, Hien decided to formalize the business. She explains, “Shifting from a household business model into a formal enterprise was the first barrier I had to overcome. We had to change our business activities to comply with the government’s regulations. Moreover, all procedures, such as human resources management and business operations, were subject to a total change, and we had to start from the beginning.”

Hien also wanted to increase production so to diversify and expand their reach beyond the local market. Hien adds, “When taking over the business I had to find ways to distribute more products to outside markets, while competing with other brands and products.” Hien found it a challenge to be a woman selling products targeted at male customers, saying, “Our products are targeted at beer shops and restaurants whose customers are mostly men.”

“E-commerce is the new knowledge which small businesses are lacking.”

While Vietnam is moving towards a more gender-equal society, and there is now less pressure on young women to undertake all the caregiving at home, imbalances still exist. Hien says, “When I spend too much time and effort on the business, it may be difficult for my life partner to understand and sympathize.”

Female entrepreneurship is definitely on the rise in Vietnam, with 27% of businesses owned by women. However, entrepreneurs – especially women – remain unserved or underserved by financial and non-financial service providers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a big blow to Hien’s business. “Production enterprises like ours were hit the hardest. Our products are mostly sold in places like restaurants and roadside stops and during the lockdown people didn’t go out. In just one month our revenue dropped by 70%. That was one of the worst things that happened to us this year. We also had to cut down on many things like staff and raw materials,” Hien says.

Not prepared to let the pandemic ruin her business, Hien is already diversifying. Recognizing the importance of online sales, Hien enrolled herself and her staff in online trading courses. “Online trading and e-commerce are an essential solution in the COVID-19 context and this is our weakness, since our products have been mostly consumed through traditional distribution channels. We are now promoting online sales, and we are establishing the retail customer segment to make up for the losses in in wholesale,” Hien explains.

A woman stands in front of shelves stocked with food.

She is crystal clear about what the company needs to survive during this volatile period. “Our business definitely needs two things. Firstly, it’s capital. Secondly, we need skills in online trading and e-commerce to expand our business to new external markets. E-commerce is the new knowledge which small businesses are lacking.”

Through CARE’s Ignite program, supported by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Hien and many other Vietnamese entrepreneurs like her will have new opportunities to grow their businesses. By partnering with commercial bank VPBank, the Women’s Initiative for Start-ups and Entrepreneurship (WISE) and fintech Canal Circle, CARE Vietnam will be able to open up access to capital for entrepreneurs, as well as access to skills development, including building on those much needed digital skills. Speaking about the first Ignite training that she received, Hien adds, “I feel that the courses were designed in a short, concise, and time-saving manner, yet they covered the exact topics I needed.”

Hien’s energy and passion for her family business seems unstoppable. “We are very proud of our products which have been handed down from our ancestors. My ambition is to complete the procedures needed to meet international standards, so that they are truly ‘Made in Vietnam.’ Then we can bring this fermented pork product to all Vietnamese people and our international friends around the world.”

“As women we have to work harder. Yet when we do, we will love this life more and become more independent,” Hien says.

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