Trang serving a Customer
When I was younger I always wanted to earn money to support my family and to pursue personal dreams. I was always thinking of things to do that would earn me money besides attending school.
I had several part time jobs while at school. I worked as an E-teaching assistant, an E tutor, an Export Sales Rep, and a Freelance Translator.
During my college years, I sold many things including:
* handmade badges
* notebooks (paper variety)
* wall decors
* imported shoes
All these I obtained from Alitaobao, and I sold them online in Hanoi.
The sales activities provided enough money for my everyday spending. My dream was, and still is today, to study abroad in the USA. But I knew that my family would not be able to support me in that dream.
I knew I couldn’t make it to the US if I only sold badges. In my early 3rd college year (2013), I dropped out of school, and told my parents I was going to South Vietnam. There, I was going to expand my handmade badge business.
At the time I figured out I couldn’t make enough money to even support my daily living expense.
Disappointed in my decision, my parents insisted that I stay home to finish my studies. We had harsh arguments and I refused to talk for months. In 2005, my parents moved from their hometown to Hanoi in hope of bringing better future for their children. My mother was struggling for her own job and eventually became unemployed ever since she’s here. It’s easy to understand why seeing me as a college student was my parents’ biggest dream at the time.
However, I was aware that my chances of business survival, let alone success, was low. So I listened to their advice, and returned to my studies at my university in 2014.
It was an exuberant year of finally achieving my academic pursuit. I focused on my studies, passing all subjects, except for 1. I still haven’t finished that subject. I will return at a later date to complete it.
In 2015 I began to stress out again. I knew I would be graduating soon and getting older. Soon. I would need to be working to earn money. I had resolved that I would make enough money to support my family and myself. I couldn’t think of anything else except that.
April 2015 saw me getting an idea of selling stick-on tattoos. I imported these from Alitaobao, the online vendor. I worked hard to save around 15 million VND (S$900)
By June 2015, I had another idea and got in touch with a lady who owned a garment manufacturing business. That’s when I created my first branded product representing young girls’ casual outfits. I named it Chicbae21.
In August 15 I started to operate Chicbae21 as an online business. I made two samples of girls’ tops, investing in a total of around VND8million.
But my young market segment didn’t seem to like the style when I launched. The tops were too tight and much too short in length for my market. My sales were horribly low for 3 months! Worse still, I didn’t have any more money at hand to make a wider range of apparel.
I went through bitter times. What kept me going was that I believed that the product design would be popular among the young girls. The problem was how to reach out to them.
When I first began the business, I had difficulty in choosing materials. I didn’t notice the difference in materials between which was stretch or non-stretch.
I had trouble making up the sizes, didn’t know what samples to make. There were shirts I threw away because of my lack of knowledge on fabric.
In November it gets colder in Hanoi so luckily we made some sales. By the end of December, I found a shop to open my first store. I learned how to control the inventory. However, I didn’t know how to select engage and manage employees.
I didn’t have the knowledge of how to assign work to staff, nor how to work with others. Fortunate for me, things got better as I kept on learning on-the-job. Running my first store gave me new things to learn. This included managing products, people, and how things connected. Also the many procedures from sketch to final products. Plus stock storage, till distributing and how to display clothing stock in retail stores.
However, it took me only about 2 weeks to get the system right. Then I opened my 2nd store in Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) in March 2016. The brand took about a month before it started to gain a foothold in HCM.
But there were days when we only sold 1 single piece of clothing! At the time, I had trouble controlling inventory among stores. Additionally, I had a disaster occur when when we lost a large quantity of stock It was during an air delivery from Hanoi to HCM because of the air carrier we worked with.
Along my journey, I’ve learned many things. During the first month I was in HCM, I rented a beautiful and pricey serviced apartment in the center of HCMC. My business was suffering then, and I was under a lot of stress. The business didn’t start well, and I was spending far too much on daily personal expenses.
To reduce personal expenses, and to give myself penalty for not working effectively, I decided to give up my apartment, and sleep in the shop. This way I felt much more attached to the shop and I could come up with better ideas to market my brand.
Learning how to display items to advantage
Sleeping in the shop was uncomfortable. At night it was scary and I stressed out. I slept there for a whole month. It was there that I came up with the idea that I had to take advantage of social media to start regional promotions. I knew I was onto something better.
By June the same year, I manage to open another store in Danang City, which is in the middle of Vietnam. I knew a little more now to control the business in the stores so I didn’t have much problems during the first month.
I didn’t do well as I had expected here. Part of the problem was due to my lack of research. We still sold shorts but it didn’t generate the level of sales for us to survive.
The girl customers didn’t seem to like our style, as girls there are more traditional and reserved. It was hard for us to sell our tops and shorts.
Before entering the Danang market, we had received a good level of online orders from here. So I tried to work out on why it wasn’t working out.
Neighbors said the place was haunted. That’s scary. People in Danang tend to believe in Fengshui, and ghosts. When I first opened the shop, the locals convinced me to light incense to chase away negative elements. I didn’t do that as I didn’t believe in rumors.
My store in Danang had been previously rented by other occupiers. They were only there for 6 months before they closed down. I didn’t believe in any of the scary stories around this, and I went ahead and rented the place.
However, after a year I had to close down because the lessor took back his place for renovations.
In September, I opened my second store in Hanoi (my 4th store). This time it seemed a lot easier running the business. In the same month, I launched Chicbae21grace – the lingerie line.
Girls seem not open to the idea of wearing bralettes- which were relatively new at the time. Our products look adorable, but weren’t as functional and supportive for the girls as traditional underwear.
Because of this, I was under constant stress to up sales. It was going to turn Winter soon, so few girls were willing to buy our bralettes as they look flimsy. It took me almost 5 months to turn our first cash profit.
Also in September, I worked on setting up a photo shoot studio. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a complete failure. Several months later, I closed the studio. Currently I’ve turned the space into an office area for myself and my staff.
Right now, I’m working on another project. I’m introducing my new line of menswear debuting called Manoman.
Nothing is easy in business! I still have trouble with fabrics and sizing. There are frequent mistakes in the production process. This side of the business is one of my biggest headaches.
But I’m stoked that my brands seem to be a favorite by many teenagers, our target customers. People are happy to wear our products; they are inspired to find their true style.
What makes me most proud is to be able to create jobs for around 50 tailors from the rural areas. They have to support their families, so I feel great that I’m making a social contribution. My business is also creating part-time jobs for students, and full time jobs for fresh graduates.
I have my own pressures as I’m expecting everything and everyone to work with high energy and focus as I’m planning to go abroad to study in a year’s time.
I’ll be away for 6 months so I’m questioning how I can keep the business running efficiently and effectively. I was actually on the edge of thinking to close down the business.
However, I stopped myself from thinking about this. I will find a way that works so that I can keep in touch and control my business remotely.
Strategic planning in running a sustainable business
These days, I spend more of my time in current and future-planning. I’ve come a long way since I started selling body art temporary tattoo stickers, and all those knick-knacks while I was at college.
I’m paying my rites of passage to life and business, and time will tell whether I’ve done the right thing.
For many families and individuals, I hope that my company has helped to change their lives and mine, through ChicBae21.
Just thinking about this, gives me a warm and satisfying glow as I reflect on my past endeavors.