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From Gadgets to Groceries: The Story of The Gioi Di Dong Founder Nguyen Duc Tai

Few would have predicted Nguyen Duc Tai, the son of a poor sticky-rice street vendor, would grow up to be Vietnam’s leading cell phone store visionary.

Bloomberg recently shared the story of the 49-year-old founder of The Gioi Di Dong (Mobile World). The ubiquitous chain now has 1,065 outlets throughout the country with a 45% share of the market and US$1.7 billion value. Its stock has surged since being founded in 2004 and made Tai a very rich man in the process. He is believed to be worth US$53 million.

Building such a successful business didn’t come easy, however. “Everybody laughed at me”, he reminisces about when he made his first forays into the mobile phone retail market. His first three stories quickly closed and it wasn’t until giving it another go with a group of friends that he finally succeeded in capturing the potential of what was then a small demand for cellular devices. “Opportunities came very fast and the market developed more quickly than I could imagine,” he explains.

Tai is banking on the same combination of luck, hard work and good timing. In 2016 he opened the first Bach Hoa Xanh (Green Grocer) location. The grocery store sells meats, vegetables and other goods with clear origin labels in direct competition to traditional neighborhood wet markets. It aims to modernize the grocery shopping experience. 

He has ambitious hopes for Bach Hoa Xanh. “Our dream is to take 10 percent of the $60 billion grocery market by 2022,” he says. Even though it was just founded within the last two years, Saigon is home to more than 375 Bach Hoa Xanh locations.

Success is far from assured for the grocery chain, however. Nguyen Duc Hieu, an analyst at Viet Dragon Securities explains: “This is not an easy industry as it requires a good supply chain, which is very hard now because there aren’t enough suppliers big enough to provide fresh meat or vegetables. The market is big, but execution isn’t easy.”

Tai has already seen setbacks in his quest to conquer the country’s cupboards and fridges. He had to close three outlets earlier this year and cancel the opening of seven others. Moreover, plans to open 1,000 new stores this year has been scaled down to a mere 500. Tai doesn’t seem to be worried though, saying, “It’s not a question of whether I succeed or not. It’s a matter of how long it takes.”

[Photos by Maika Elan via Bloomberg]

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