Chy Sila got his start selling compact discs in Phnom Penh in 1998. He and his friend, Kouch Sokly, grew CD World into a competitive player within two years. Now they’re directors of CBM Corporation, which counts Western-style restaurant chains BB World, Pizza World and T&C World among its holdings. Phnom Penh Post reporter Rann Reuy sat down with Chy Sila to get the inside scoop on CBM’s success so far.
Why did you decide to open a Western-style business?
I have spent time in many foreign countries, learning their markets and realised the next step in business is similar, whether it is in a developing or developed country. When I look to neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, we see that the demands of people have evolved due to globalisation. Although the concept is relatively new to Cambodia, it will begin to develop.
How much time did you spend making sure that the business would be a success?
All businesses need time and the right opportunity. We were lucky to enter the market at the right time. After about six to 12 months I saw my clientele’s tastes vary, they recognised that they wanted to try different products. So, after a year I opened further shops. Entering business at the right time is essential.
What type of customer do you attract?
The customer-base is essentially comprised of youths, known as “modern people.” They have usually grown up talking English and have embraced Western-culture, including the cuisine. We also get families coming to eat, but usually as a result of their children’s influence.
What are business opportunities like now, compared to when you started operations in the Kingdom?
As we were the first of our kind in Cambodia, there was initially no competition, but it was still a big risk introducing a new product to a limited customer base. The fact that we opened up additional shops is a testament to our success. However, a number of competitors are starting to emerge, which makes business more challenging.
You have businesses such as CD shops, restaurants, a cinema and IT companies. Which one is the most successful?
All these businesses have a future. They are progressing. But if we want to judge the most successful, we cannot judge them by which one make the most money or which one has more branches. They are producing almost equal revenues. Restaurants provide more income, but they also have more staff: it’s a ‘big boat with big sails.’ But CIDC covers technology. It has less staff, but they have higher skills. So I’m spending more on staff.
In the next few years and the long-term, can you see which businesses will make the most progress?
All of them have opportunities but I cannot say which one is the best. The businesses we choose need to be built and developed with vigour. I expect that most of our customers will come from medium-income households. In our country, honestly speaking, there is a little problem: The gap between poor and rich people is huge.
The government and the private sector try to handle this. Rich people want to spend $1,000 a day, while poor people do not have even one dollar a day. So what we are waiting for is the whole society to change. When poor people earn five dollars a day, then we will have so many clients. In conclusion, the best business is the business that attracts more people from medium-income households.
Is your business still competitive in the current environment?
For me, I have often travelled abroad. I have done research to see if Cambodia still has more opportunities for young entrepreneurs who plan to set up businesses. But we suffer from an extreme lack of hardworking, patient and creative entrepreneurs.
They're like to follow each other: One person opens a coffee shop. Another person opens a phone shop. Oh, there are hundred of these shops. One opens Suki Soup, but there are already Suki Soup shops everywhere.
It means that people started acting only after seeing someone else’s success. They do not invent new things. This is why I think they lack creative ideas and face more challenges.