Small But Steady: Lao Businesses Expanding Abroad

Lao Business

When people think of Laos, they think of a third world country that has been somewhat eclipsed by larger, surrounding nations for centuries. 

However, within the past 5 years, Laos has caught the attention of foreign investors worldwide. The untapped market and land offers ample resources and opportunities, giving venture capitalists a vision of transforming the small landlocked country into a necessary component linking ASEAN, which will boost trade and commerce for all countries involved.

The popular misconception is that because Lao people strive to be ‘humble’ they are often mistaken as ‘weak’, and due to that, many people falsely believe that the country is only capable of being invested in, and that Lao people don’t have the ingenuity or capability of conducting foreign businesses abroad. This is simply not the case.

Lao people are progressively broadening their horizons and pursuing business opportunities across borders and overseas, particularly in neighbouring countries.

The success stories that have emerged from Lao entrepreneurs venturing abroad has served as encouragement to Lao-owned companies, that they too can thrive just as other ASEAN businesses have. With proper funding, management, proficiency and human resources, Lao entrepreneurs can expand their operations both regionally and internationally, enhancing trade, investment, tourism, and transportation in other regions.

With Myanmar being touted as one of the most favorable investment destinations in the world, Ms Somsavath Khemsuliyajack, has been the first Lao national to successfully launch a business there.

After proving lucrative in her home country, the ambitious young business woman stepped out of her comfort zone into uncharted territory, looking for new opportunities in Myanmar.

In 2013, Ms Somsavath partnered up with a Thai cosmetics company to produce a high quality cosmetics line for Myanmar’s market, producing, distributing, and marketing cosmetics under the brand name ‘SK Herbal’.

SK Herbal’s line of beauty products has rapidly become a popular brand in Myanmar; garnering positive responses and reviews from consumers and has found its way into the Lao market as of last year.

In addition to her profitable beauty line, Ms Somsavath also runs a beverage company that produces a healthy herbal drink for the Myanmar market, which has plans to mobilize into neighbouring countries eventually.

Another small business success story is one that belongs to a well known Lao noodle franchise, Sep Eeli. Vientiane capital is home to eight of its locations, with three branches set to open in Luang Prabang, Champasak and Attapeu provinces shortly.

The franchise owner and founder, Ms Latsamy Vetsaphong, has voiced that many potential business partners have expressed interest in buying the franchise to operate restaurants in both Europe and the ASEAN.

Ms Latsamy is eagerly searching for opportunities to migrate into 5 other ASEAN countries over the next 10 years after successfully launching a Sep Eeli franchise in Phuket, Thailand.

The Sep Eeli brand is currently opening a branch in Myanmar, with plans to kick off in Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam soon after. Ms Latsamy explained, “We are in the process of quality checks of our products to make sure they are in line with international standards; we’d also like to become a supplier of instant noodles and ingredients in the future.”

In hopes of becoming a big investor in the ASEAN, Phongsavanh Bank, a major Lao private bank, also has set its sights on mobilizing its operations internationally, planning to expand its services overseas and  to having offices in 10 Asean countries within the next five years.

The Phongsavanh Group’s Chairman of the Shareholders’ Committee, Mr Somboun Phongsavanh has stated that the bank now has offices in Vietnam and Thailand, and expects to have service units and operating branches there in the very near future.

Currently the bank has business cooperation and investments with the tourism, education, medical health and property service sectors in Thailand.

An official with the Ministry of Planning and Investment’s Investment Promotion Department has stated that not only does the government not want to restrict businesses from expanding abroad but is in support of their endeavor.

Source: Vientiane Times