Saigon Cosmetics is the leading exporter of perfume in Vietnam with an export channel focused mostly in Southeast Asia. Our study abroad group visited the company on this particularly beautiful day to tour the facility, learn about the current state and direction of the business and present some recommendations on how to develop a successful strategy to enter the U.S. market.
We were greeted by a lovely Vietnamese woman, Quỳnh, an ushered into a conference room (complete with breakfast and rich Vietnamese coffee) to get a brief history on the company. Le Quang Dung, the export director, presented some of their best selling products, Miss Saigon (shown below with the traditional Vietnamese dress & hat) and Aroma Link (the sent reminiscent of rice fields, which are very special in Vietnam) and a few of the marketing strategies they implement in this area of the world. One scent, My Time, is endorsed by a locally famous Vietnamese pop singer, My Tam. Miss Saigon appears to be the quintessential fragrance of Vietnamese women, when looking at the bottle, however, the company representatives admitted it is more typical for foreigners to buy as a souvenir to bring home.
In the manufacturing facility, the workers had that expected Vietnamese charm – friendly, waving and smiling through their protective face masks. Considering we just heard SC is the leading perfume company in this region of the world, the operations seemed relatively small with only about 40 or so people labeling, cleaning and packaging bottles of body cleanser and perfume.
The job of my fellow classmates was to present a recommended strategy for expanding their export channel into the U.S. market. This was very interesting to watch and realize that, ostensibly, the level of sophistication in American business marketing practices is much greater than those currently found in Vietnam. From this one meeting it became clear there is tremendous opportunity for businesses similar to SC in this country to grow and thrive, if provided a little direction.
The group you see to your left did a fantastic job in their presentation – the culmination happened when the guys unbuttoned their shirts to reveal the North American brand image they made for the company imprinted on black t-shirts. It was real slick. The main recommendations the team made included: partnering with a leading cosmetics retail outlet (Sephora), charging a premium price for their fragrances, and altering the names and packaging. It was incredible watching the reactions of Ly Nguyen Lan Phuong, the general director and Le Quang Dung, who smiled and nodded their heads excitedly throughout the presentation. Ms. Phuong Ly asked “If we are not the cheapest perfume in store, why would anyone try our scent?” making it strikingly evident to me that purchasing decisions (or perceived purchasing decisions) in Vietnam are driven by completely different factors than in the U.S. (before leaving, I made it a point to explain to the directors many people get perfume samples free with purchases online or in stores, so they would want to have those made and distributed extensively to get people trying, familiar with, and liking the scents). When your only experience is marketing your product to one type of consumer base in one region of the world, it’s necessary to have international marketing consultants and business partners to provide direction and insight. Perhaps my fellow students and I have bright futures doing just that…
What SC has going for it is an exotic appeal and wonderfully smelling fragrances made of premium materials. When the company representatives asked our class for examples of names for their product (most decidedly “Miss Saigon” wouldn’t fly off the shelves), I suggested using the name of the gracefully refined and dignified traditional dress, Ao Dai, allowing the company to stay true to their Vietnamese roots. With that recommendation alone, I did my duty as an international consultant.