Launch a Horeca business in Laos : everything you need to know
Hey guys ! Welcome to this new video. Today, we are flying to Laos to interview Sirina, who has been involved in the Horeca business. Sirina owns a coffee shop chain and hotel in Southtern Laos in the middle of their plantation. So she's going to share with us about her entrepreneurship story being living in Laos. She also won the ASEAN Business Award for Women Entrepreneurship.
So she's going to share with us her insights of being an entrepreneur in Laos. If you want to learn about investment opportunities and business in Asia. You can check in the description and download my ebook, "The 7 Mistakes I Made in Asia". Let's get started!
Hello Sirina, I'm happy to have you here on the YouTube channel to share about women entrepreneurship and business in Laos. I know that before living and Laos you were also living in Singapore. So can you share us your story going from France to Laos.
Hi, good morning Guillaume. Thanks for having me on your channel. I'm very honored. And let me share with you my journey from France to Laos. Right. So as you can see, I have some Lao origin. So I didn't arrive here just by chance or by mistake.
Actually, my family has a business in Lao, so that was somehow in the plan to come here in the near future. So why did I decide to go to Singapore first? Actually, as a fresh graduate? I started to work in France, but I very quickly realized that I still needed to have some exposure abroad. I still need to needed to be connected with other cultures.
So I started to look for jobs anywhere in Asia and it come up that Singapore was the first destination. So I took a position where I had to open the startup company office in Singapore. It was a French startup. So we first moved with my partner in Singapore because I found this opportunity very exciting, a lot of autonomy. I had to set up the office, do all the business development by myself finding new clients. That was really, really great.
I was young, 26 year old. Right. And lots of autonomy. That was really great. And after starting this business, I felt it was not really for me to work in this way because the vision of the company was not really aligned with mine. And we had limited resources as a small French company to develop a business in Singapore. I had to travel a lot to meet with very different type of companies and the
results we had as a small startup were not enough. So I finally decided to quit and run a consulting company, Accenture, an American Company, and run their digital practice. So basically my background is more about digital consulting and helping companies to grow their business on the digital space. As we move to Singapore are closer to Laos, right, so we traveled a few times to Laos visiting my parents, knowing more about the country, the developments, and we were progressively more attracted, more attracted by the country. We came to learn about the opportunities, what could be done here and what we're really the project that were exciting for us. So after five years in Singapore, we decided that, OK, it's time to move on to next adventures and. That's how we came to Laos.
So for me, moving from France to Laos was not a completely natural process. I needed to have experience somewhere else before. And then joining the business family business here, it was really important for me to get to get exported to another country and work with other companies before joining the family business. So that's how we moved here. So now we're talking more about your business in Laos, and what you are doing on a day to day basis. Can you share a bit more about what you are working on right now in
Lao? So currently I'm running Sinouk Coffee, which is a coffee business in Laos where one of the oldest and leading coffee business in Laos because we overview the whole coffee value chain. We started as coffee growers and coffee traders a few years ago. Then we moved on to manufacturing coffee, which means that we produce our own brand. We wrote our own coffee and we package our own brand and our own product. And then we also moved on to the retail side where we open a coffee shop chain. So today we have about 14 outlets throughout Laos, mostly based in the capital, but also spread across the different provinces.
So in these coffee shops, you know, we serve coffee, coffee drinks mostly, but also bakeries, French bakeries and food as well. So it's a real pleasure to run this business because, you know, you come you come to drink your favorite drink every day and you just test some food all the time. So that's really exciting. So that's one of the of the part that we develop the most over the last few years, food, catering and coffee as a social place for people to meet over the last few years. We also try to develop other aspects of the business because, you know, as you develop your activity, competition comes with. Right. So we developed the coffee shop chain.
Then other entrepreneurs also started to develop coffee shop. So we needed to differentiate ourselves. So when I joined the company, I focused my energy on developing a franchise network franchising network to duplicate our presence quickly in Laos. That was not so easy, I would say, because the franchise network at that time was not really the franchise concept, I would say was not really well known in Laos. People did not understand why they had to pay for using your brand, why they had to pay you royalties : royalty fees.
Right. So it's been a little bit of a challenge now. It's still challenging, but we have more experience. So let's say it's more it's more smooth. Right. And to differentiate ourself on the market as well.
So I also wanted to emphasize more about our expertise. We've been in the coffee business for a long time. We've developed our expertise for the whole value chain. On many aspects, right? So I really wanted to emphasize on the coffee education aspect, so four years ago we opened a coffee learning house, which we call the coffee pavilion. Today, it's a place in Vientiane where: people can come learn about coffee, they can learn many aspects about the history, the processing.
We also have a coffee lab where on a day to day basis, we test our coffee, we test new recipe, we test new samples that we receive, but also organize tours. So on their free time Saturday morning or any day during the week. People who live in Vientiane and also tourists before, right, could come and just learn coffee with us.
So that has been a real pleasure to do that, to sharing our experiences, sharing our passion to to anyone who was interested in coffee, whether your coffee connoisseur or just someone who loves drinking coffee and want to know more. And I would say one of the last project that we've been running, especially before teh pandemic. Right, was more focused on coffee tourism. Why coffee tourism? Again, that's also because we we have a plantation on the Bolaven plateau in the south of Los and on this coffee plantation, who hosts a small coffee resort, small coffee result where tourists can come in and drink coffee. They can stay overnight for one night, two, not three nights, you know, and just use our resort as a base camp to visit the region and also visit our plantation and see our processing facilities. So two years ago, we started to organize tours for for tourists from Korea mainly. But we also had tourists from La Reunion, for instance, and design tours, especially for them, based on the limited time that they had or based on the special interest they had also. So it was really a very enriching experience.
We could share with them what we are doing on a day to day basis. We could bring them to meet our farmers. We could let them experience processing, get their hands dirty.
So that's also something that we really I really appreciate to to develop. And today, of course, everything is on standby because we don't have any more tourists. So we need to renew our approach. But basically, that's what I'm doing on a day to day basis.
I'm working on growing the coffee business, whether it's on the farming side, retail side or more educational side, tourism side. Ok, so interesting to see that you are involved in the training, in the franchising business and as well as in the Horeca. We're going to discuss it a bit after about the Horeca aspect. I'm quite curious, too, to have your insights about these in Laos.
But before that, I know that you are also very involved in the women entrepreneurship community in Laos. You've been, I mean, you won the price of the the the business award for APAC region, right, in 2017. Can you share with us your commitments and your involvement in that community? Actually, I won this award like four years ago now, so that's quite a long time ago, right? So that's ASEAN Business Awards in the woman entrepreneur category. So I think that was a key moment for me, actually, when I joined the company.
You know, I was doing my my daily task, as usual. Right. And I came to know some people who just told me, oh, you should you should apply for this Woman Entrepreneur Award. Maybe it will be interesting for you and the company to have some exposure in ASEAN. So I just said, OK, let's let's join.
So I really committed myself to providing all the datas, sharing our past achievements and also a vision for the future, how our company stands in Laos and what we're planning to to do and what we are committed to play in the law society. And I want. So first, I think I didn't realize that it was such a big prize for ASEAN. So I just threw myself to Manila, received a prize from President Duterte and came back home alone. Right. And then when I came back to life, there was such a positive atmosphere
around here. People started to to come to me and congratulate me. The business community also started to connect with me, people that I didn't know before. Right. Of course, there were some questions about, oh, who's this girl? So why is it not someone else that we know for a long time who won the award? Why did she win? And then progressively people started to learn about learn about me in. And I also explained how I managed to win. That's right. Just being authentic, sharing about our company development and what were
our plan. And from then it opened some doors for me. I was more connected to the Lao society was I was more considered as well. I was able to share more experience.
And the interesting thing is that progressively I was also called to apply for other types of awards. Right. And I just accepted because for me, it wasn't really for me 100 percent to get the award, but also to put a spotlight on Laos. Just to mention that we have an applicant from laws because they have so many applicants from Singapore or from the Philippines. From Thailand. Right. And so I just opened some doors as well.
And now since 2017, every year we have some applicants from Laos. So that's a great proud for for me. I'm really happy about that. And so progressively, I also came to meet some women entrepreneur that I still know today. And we're still sharing a few stories, few events. And I thought that was interesting to share with you, because I often get the question about so how about women in Laos? So are there a lot of women entrepreneurs? Is it not so difficult? And I was very surprised. It's really not difficult to be a woman to partner in laws.
There's no barrier, actually. It's a very well integrated situation with men. No difference. A lot of women are intrapreneur in various sectors in fashion and food and beverage in mining industry as well. In sports, you'd be surprised how many women there are here.
And I think that that's also what makes us unique and stronger. There's no there's no barrier. There's no limit about that.
And that's great. That's quite interesting. And one, you know how to connect with these women then. Yeah, it make things easier. All the philosophy of our company were committed to represent Laos thanks to our commitment, but also because we work with farmers and also committed to help the young generation to develop and supporting women as well.
In our company, we have more than 50 percent easily. More than 50 percent of the staff is women, and we've been supporting them on several aspects flexible work hours, post pregnancy, work, flexibility as well. Development program for them to know more about different topics. Right. And that's how we were identified by UNFPA. UNFPA stands for United Nations Fund for Population Assistance. Right. And so we were identified as partner by UNFPA because of our commitment with women
and young girls. So we are very proud to be partnering with them. Action are not as important as we thought we would do for now, but we still committed to this engagement. We help them promote about the importance of empowering women and young and young girls, of letting women know about what is important in their life and how they can manage their their professional career, pregnancy and life choice to make healthy choices well. So this is quite important is was a company commitment and a personal commitment as well. So I represent and UNFPA on the company level, but that's also on my on my own time. Everything I do for women activities on my own time as well.
Interesting and inspiring stories about the business and also kind of the volunteering aspects of your life. What about the Horeca aspect? I'm interesting about running a coffee shop, running a hotel. You mentioned the hotel you have in the plantation. Can you share with us to be the the pros and cons and the maybe the struggle you have in running this kind of business, especially right now in this pandemic time? So right now, in this pandemic time, of course, it's the struggles are so enormous. Right. So our hotel definitely relied more on tourism.
So now the activity is very, very slow down. So we need to have more more creativity to attract local people, local people developing more F&B offer, focusing more on the experience aspect as well in preparing for the reopening of the borders. Of course, I was mentioning about coffee tourism. So that's not something I'm focusing on right now, right now, because the interprovincial borders also just reopened. So our main focus will be about focusing, attracting and targeting more the local people with activities in our resorts and also food and beverage packages. Right. But also stays for the local residents.
We are entering into the summer season, which also means holidays for family. So for those who didn't come last year, for example, or the previous years, we're also trying to run some package for them during this season. Regarding other aspect of the Horeca business, running a restaurant and coffee shop is also we also struggling right ? The chance we have, I would say, is that most of our outlets are based in Vientiane capital, so Vientiane capital is less affected than the rest of the province was to benefit from all the dynamism of the capital city.
Right. And again, it's I think it's really about innovation and also relying on your loyal customer base. And I think we're quite lucky on this side.
We have over the last few years built quite a loyal customer base. So even during the lockdown and even now, we, of course, we lost some revenues, but we still have our loyal customers who are still drawing, who order with us. So that's that's really, really helpful. And I would say that running Horeca business anyway, is very challenging in Laos outside of the covid period anyway. And it's challenging for and for many aspects.
If you don't if you don't own your own place, rental fees are usually quite high. The there is normally market price, so owners really set their price as they want. So if you need to rent a place, it's definitely going to be considerable aspect in your PnL. That's really, really heavy. So that's why the most successful retailers here in the US are those who are owning their own shop. They own the wall. So if you own your wall, then you don't really have to worry about in
this covid period. For example, if they own the wall, the they are owner, they might not be so affected, might not be so effective. So that's one of the main point. The second point is about, of course, employee retention.
Employee retention, how to man, how to manage to retain your employee. Keeping them loyal so that they don't so that you don't have a crazy turnover or you had to change your stuff every week, every month or every six months. Right. So on this aspect, I think we've done quite right. And I think it's a family aspect as well, which helps we run the family business. So that's also what the employees feel.
We we also enable them to grow the companies. So we have employees staying with us for 15 years, 15 years, 10 years. Very few employees are with us since less than five years. So somehow we give them opportunity to to grow a career perspective as well, and that's an important point here.
And most of the staff you will hear in Laos are very volatile. They change all the time, which is true. But I think if you manage to give them some perspective and also show them that they have opportunity to grow in your company, they are more sensible to this right now.
So that will that will help. So our Horeca business, I would say, is still struggling during this period, but we are lucky to have loyal staff. So you mention about the volatility of the staff and what about the market consumption? I know, for instance, in Vietnam, you know, as soon as there is a new brand, you will have a lot of customer coming. People want to try, experience seeing any new place popping up in the city, but it's very hard to maintain those customer. How is it about the mindset of the Lao consumer on this perspective? That's exactly the same.
So as soon as a new place opens up, you have all the person from Vientiane, for example, moving to this place, and then you go back six months later on, maybe a year. But usually after six months, you can see that this was empty again because people move to another place. So that's the real challenge. So many places here open, open very fast. Actually, you'd be surprised. You can do it. You can go to a different place every yeah, almost every week or every two weeks. You can you can go to different places, but those who survive are very
limited. So it's very easy to open a shop here. But I would say that. After two years. Fifty percent of them close. Yeah, I was interesting to to get your insight about Horeca business, you know, because obviously this is one of the first idea foreigners have when they want to do business in Asia, I got consulted for this kind of business.
You know like some foreigners wanted to have their own coffee, their own restaurant, their own bar. But he's also an industry that is very competitive. And it's not only you need to have a good idea, you need to have good management skill , good business skill. It's a whole things you have to learn. If you want to jump into this business. What would be your advice to tell to, I don't know, a millennial, someone who has this idea and want to try and experience this kind of business, what will be your key takeaway? You will tell them to get started. I would say definitely do not do that alone.
You need to partner with a local person not only on an administrative point of view, but someone who's been here for I wouldn't say too long, but someone who has been here, who knows the market, who knows the trend, and also who is able to connect with the local population as well. If you run 100 percent Farang business, as we say here, Farang means foreigner, right. Chances are that you will be able to attract foreigners because you have a unique value proposition for foreigners.
Right. But. Don't have to forget that the foreign community is still small in Laos, yes, when you go outside, you can see a lot of foreigners, but the biggest part, the biggest share of the market is still Lao people. So somehow, even if your menu or your concept is 100 percent Farang.
Right. It's really important to be partnering with a Lao person just to help with the communication or to promote is really, really important. Because now, as you see during the covid time when you're 100 percent Farang oriented, you're very vulnerable, very vulnerable. So that's something that will be my main takeaway. I would say partner with a Lao person absolutely. Of course, find a unique value proposition.
But that's, I would say obvious. Don't rush as well. And also really try to find the right location, try to find the right location. Vientiane is so small. Right. So if you just try to do something because you know, someone who has a free
space a little bit out of time, but it's also a little bit difficult. So location as usual, that's a key point in Horeca anyway. But partnering with a person who is able to speak with the language, I would say, speak with the Lao community also quite important. Try to find a partner as soon as you arrive, get to know the market, what people say and what also you have to experience by your own.
And then being good in, I guess, just managing a company. Right, running a business, doing digital marketing. Nowadays it will be your your key takeaway. Yeah, obviously. I mean, yeah, I forgot to mention about that, but regardless if it's a foreigner or not. Yes, of course, running a business as a digital business is anyway
something essential. Right. So for any foreigner who would like to come and open a business in Laos, in Horeca, for example, don't just come in and open a physical shop, just set up your menu and open . It has to be more digital oriented, come directly with a unique value proposition, jump directly into the digital space and create this differentiation. That's, I think, what would help because just opening a shop, a restaurant or a cafe or bubble tea shop here, I mean, it's good, right? But you have to come with a unique value proposition and leveraging with digital is essential, of course. Yes. So we know that there is a lot of foreign direct investment coming into Laos, especially from China. How do you see the economy growing and the opportunity coming to Lao, let's say, from the next five to ten years? So Laos is definitely a very dynamic market, but it's taking time.
It's both dynamic and slow at the same time. So if I look back, I just moved here six years ago, it changed a lot on many aspects of development projects, Horeca business opening, of course, the rise of delivery for instance and and e-commerce. We still have a lot of barriers regarding online facilities, Internet connection and payment facilities. Right. But it's evolving very fast. Quite fast. Right.
But slowly here than in other countries, mainly because we don't have all the infrastructure and also all the skill sets of the people who have the right skill sets to develop. But it will come quite fast, I would say, but I would say five years. You don't have to expect like a tremendous change. You will not see big towers like and so many big companies joining as well. Definitely Chinese companies are coming, but they are doing it very slowly. So they are coming, not making so much buzz, I would say doing their own thing, their development about the railway, for instance, or hospitals. So big projects are coming in, mostly in the.
Yeah. Transportation sector, tourism sector and also health care sector. Right. It's evolving, it's evolving, but you don't have to be too impatient, I would say, in 10 years. Yes, it will definitely change . In five years. It will change. But you don't have to expect very I mean.
Crazy results if you move here next year and in five years, you're expecting to have the econony grown by 10. Yeah, I mean, as a single entrepreneur, it might be hard, but if you come with a big investment company. Yeah, maybe. Thank you, Sirina for your sharing and your advice for the young community who want to jump into business in Lao. You can check into the description I will leave some links, some resources and maybe directly the contact of Sirina so if you want to get in touch with Sirina, feel free to check in the comments and below in the description. Thank you so much for your time.
And I see you in the next video. Thank you, Guillaume. Bye Bye.