Insight article

Same, same but different

I recently returned from a trip to Vietnam and a comment by a guide to me at the beginning of my trip still resonates with me today.

Vu, my guide, was native Vietnamese, born and raised in Ho Chi Minh city. The difference between him and many of his fellow countrymen was that he was married to an Australian and spent many years of his life living and working overseas. He had experienced a more liberal and autonomist culture. What he said was, “Many people in Vietnam don’t think independently. Generally people follow the lead of others, rarely breaking the mould.” Although this was a very sweeping comment and by no means envelopes everybody in Vietnam, over and over again I saw it in practice throughout my travels. There were streets of shops all selling the same things … entire districts devoted to one product. Case after case where one person would find a successful line of business and others followed suit.  None of these shopkeepers were making their fortunes: there was too much competition in their line of business. They were surviving but not thriving.

Every now and then there was someone that stood out, finding a niche that was different to everyone else. These people were small jewels. They were one step ahead of everyone else and they had dared to be different – running a business that was selling products nobody else was selling. Their success was evident. They ran bustling independent stores, to which tourists flocked. They had risen in the ranks of review sites and were the first green shoots of change in a growing economy. In Vietnam and Asia business is booming.

Vietnam is the world’s biggest coffee producer but they are held back by producing poor quality Robustas Coffee for the freeze dried coffee market rather than the more lucrative Arabica Espresso trade. Mia, a small-scale coffee roaster, is bucking the trend, roasting high quality Vietnamese beans for espresso. It’s a business that’s doing something different, and thriving. Surprised?

Nailia Tasseel