2019 Women Trading Globally participant adopting zero waste approach to premium coconut oil products from Vietnam
In 2019, the ECA welcomed Thuy Hoang, founder of Cocovie, Vietnam to the Australia Awards Women Trading Globally Program supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Thuy spent two weeks in Brisbane and Sydney with 14 fellow female entrepreneurs from Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Timor Leste, Vietnam and Mongolia.
Thuy shares her founder story with us through the following Q&A.
Q&A with Thuy Hoang
Q: What led to you commencing your business?
I started the business of Cocovie after spending years travelling around world working in the luxury products industry. During a visit in Vietnam, I met a friend who gave me a coconut oil sample in a USED LaVie water bottle (LaVie is a popular bottled water company in Vietnam). He worked hard into making good oil but he did not know how to sell… I wanted to help my friend.
Whilst helping this small producer to find a way to sell the oil, I discovered the miraculous benefits of Coconut Oil on my skin and hair. As a buyer and seller of luxury hair care products, I would dye my hair every 2-3 weeks with a new color and apply all types of repair oil from the famous brands that I was selling. However, my hair got drier and weaker. I used the coconut oil sample in the “LaVie Water Bottle” and after the first use, my hair got shiny and strong again. With this visible result, I made the decision to grow long hair again thanks to the Coconut Oil of Ben Tre (a coastal province in the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam). In addition to dry hair, coconut oil also rectifies dry skin. I no longer use expensive products for personal care and now my bathroom is so spacious thanks to Cocovie beautifying Coconut oil and Soaps.
In memory of this miraculous moment of the Coconut oil in the “LaVie Water Bottle”, we created the beauty coconut oil brand called “Lacocovie” which later changed to “Cocovie”. Our vision was to make the coconut oil of Ben Tre as popular as “LaVie water”. We signed agreements with major retailers in Vietnam market when we started. The special thing about Cocovie is that we created coconut oil workshops right in/ or near the coconut farms to press fresh oil and enable more job opportunities for women in the village. We invested in the machines and instructed the people of Ben Tre to press the oil based on our process. All the farmers, who sell to us, are committed to the preservation of natural state of the Mekong River that goes through their farms.
We are also applying the business model of a circular economy in which nothing in the coconut is wasted. For example, we use the coconut shells to make soap tray and dry coconut flakes (after pressing out all the oil) to make scrub for the soaps. Especially 100% of our product is vegan and organic as per USDA standards.
We know that what we do- as per our current turnover- is just a drop in the ocean… we are trying to increase the number of clean drops day by day with your support…. and the ocean and rivers will not be the same because of those drops
Q: What did you learn from participating in the Australia Awards Women Trading Globally program in 2019?
I have learned that successful global expansion requires consistency, perseverance, careful business planning and especially strategic focus.
Most importantly, for me it’s vital to connect to other women who are on the same path of creating a positive impact on the environment and on the local community through a business venture.
It’s a challenging endeavour as we need to both survive in the fierce business world and remain real to our compassionate and tender nature of a woman. I really admired and learned from these female entrepreneurs in the program who take care well of not only their business, but also family and the local community. They come from a society that is tougher than Vietnam yet they could handle that much and stay positive and energetic all the times.
In fact the Women Trading Globally program gives us certain credibility in the business community in Australia.
Thanks to this program we met potential clients and even volunteer senior mentors in the field of personal care who are helping us to navigate through both Australian and Chinese markets.
These clients did launch some focus groups, investigate pricing structure for retail launch. Unfortunately we decide that at this moment the time is not ripe yet for a launch there. We keep in touch and it’s great that I can always turn to them for advice or contact anytime I need.
Q: As a result of participating in the program, what are some changes you have implemented?
- Successfully creating a business framework to work with international distributors
- Shift in strategic focus regarding international business that enables us to generate new sales for international sales
Q: How have you been impacted by COVID-19 and how have you responded?
COVID-19 has been a challenging time. As most of our domestic sales were generated through the tourist channels like airports and tourist shops, in the first 2 months, our sales dropped dramatically- almost 50% drop. In this turbulent time, our team voluntarily proposed significant cut in salary and extra hours.
Our client, with whom we owed considerable fees, agreed to take products instead of cash. Our supplier agreed to grant us more time to handle payment.
On the sales side we changed our focus from the offline retail to online and affiliate sales whilst preparing attractive price offers for our international clients, and simplifying our operation process. By the end of 2020, despite a smaller business size, we encountered zero debt and the whole team was still fully rewarded with 13th month salary and festive gifts.
My belief is that in business, it’s the staff and customers who keep the business going, and not only the cashflow. This proved to be true during the Covid period… As long as we have faith, we can persevere through the dark night I believe.