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.