Bayon Supermarket opened its doors in 1991, with proprietor Chheang Meng selling from his flat on Monivong Boulevard. Post reporter Rann Reuy recently spoke to the grocer about the store’s growth since then and the challenges he has faced along the way.
What prompted you to start this business?
The market’s lasted 21 years. I first opened in my house, not knowing what would happen to our country. I’d tried to operate as a clothes seller, but it brought on too much debt, and it was a tough business to be in.
So I moved into food selling when the United Nations Transition Authority in Cambodia arrived because there was no one really doing it at that point.
At the beginning, we knew nothing. I’d had no experience in school. Customer knew what they wanted and they told me what to order. “Bring this to sell. You lack this product.”
Then I knew that what European guests liked and what Asian guests liked and what Cambodians liked from day to day. As a result, our product offerings have increased over the years.
Do you operate with the help of a foreign investor?
Today, this is purely a household business. I don’t share with any foreigners, only my relatives.
How did you end up moving to your present location near the Peace Palace in 2010?
It was an accidental matter. It was near to my home on Monivong, so I’d bought the land and built a warehouse for overstock. But business increased over time, and we eventually moved in permanently.
What is the percentage split of goods sold that are local versus imported?
We don’t have many Khmer products. Most of the local goods we do have are from organisations whose purpose is to develop local industry, whether with honey, dried fruits or wine.
That’s not to say we don’t want to promote Khmer goods, because foreigners often want them as souvenirs and gifts for their families. The imported goods we sell are usually from Singapore, Malaysia and China.
What things do you do to encourage Khmer producers to sell their wares at your shop?
Most of all, I tell them they need to make sure their products are of the same quality as similar goods in my store. Customers look for that. We want to sell more Khmer products, though.
Do you have a business philosophy at all? What drives your business?
I did this to feed families, which I think is a different reason than many foreigners who choose to invest here. I thought that I’d just do it to get everyone food, and I never thought about competing with others.
Are you happy with the work you’ve done so far?
For me, I’m proud because we didn’t expect to do as well as we have. We have grown with the store step-by-step, earning profits when we can, and we’re making gradual improvements.
To contact the reporter on this story: Rann Reuy at [email protected]