It has been a whirlwind of experiences since I landed in Laos 3 days ago. My fellowship is working with Bandith Ladpakdy, the project manager for Saoban Craft Shop, a fair trade enterprise in the heart of Vientiane.
They sell traditional Laotian handicrafts and what makes them unique is that they are working directly with the producers in the villages to build capacity while at the same time training them in quality control and other market realities that will get them good and fair prices for their work. They work with textile weavers making scarves, silversmiths, basket makers, and others.
However, they know building this capacity means nothing if they don’t have a market to sell the products. This where Saoban shop comes in. It is a lovely shop that has become a favorite with ex-pats and visitors alike. In fact it is the #2 shopping experience listed on Trip Advisor in Vientiane.
Saoban has found that along with success comes growing pains that all small businesses face. How to track inventory, finding new markets, quality control issues, customer relations, staffing, and advertising and promotion. This is where I come in. In Montana I work with the Made in Montana program helping small businesses grow and face the challenges that growth brings. In what I’ve learned so far, it doesn’t matter if the business is in Laos or Montana…the issues are similar.
Yesterday I spent time with the Saoban staff (Samoy, Noy, Bay, and Bandith) learning about each of their challenges in running the shop. It was interesting because it was the first time they heard this from each other. We discussed employee empowerment and it was decided that when they had a problem that it was part of their job to bring attention to it as well as to suggest a solution. Before, they would ignore problems and wait for a manager to notice and solve it.
We talked about so much more yesterday, how to better manage inventory (as seen in the picture) but right now the staff and I are off to go visit their shop’s completion in Vientiane…something they have never done before. It will be an eye opening experience.