Tne good example of a Cambodian business expanding to other countries is Monument Books, which opened in Laos in 2005 and Myanmar in 2008, with four branches in each country as well as the four branches here in Cambodia.
Founder and Managing Director Meng Hieng makes a point of selling only legal books and says he’s absolutely against copied books.
“We use soft strategies to resolve the crime of fake copies by advising people to be aware of an original documents’ value,” he said.
Meng says Monument Books purchases 1,200 titles of books, newspapers and magazines each day in a total 45 languages from at least 80 countries.
Monument Books in Laos kicked off its first branch in Vientiane, followed by a second Vientiane branch and then a branch in Pakse and one in Luang Prabang.
“There is small population in Lao but many expat foreigners live along the crowed places so we were able to expand Monument Books,” Meng Hieng said. “Now we have 45 Lao employees.”
During the last five years, the Myanmar operation has expanded to three branches in Yangon and one in Mandalay with a total of 80 people employed in the Monument Books Myanmar operation.
In total, Monument books employs nearly 200 people across the three countries in 12 branches.
“Every year our employees exchange their experience to enhance their skills,” Meng Hieng said.
He says Monument Books’ goal is to provide the knowledge resources necessary to develop human resources especially for English, the training of English teachers and the use of modern methods through modern textbooks.
“Monument Books has been become a vital partner in Cambodia as the representative of Oxford, Longman and Cambridge Universities’ publishing institution’s promotion,” he said.
“Being the official partner of these publishing institutions, we always receive trainer teams from Oxford University that provide new methods to lecturers at Cambodia’s schools every year and we cooperate with them on the English curriculum,” he said.
At his Monument Books flagship office on Norodom Boulevard, Meng Hieng stood from his chair and pointed to a bookshelf full of texts about Angkor Wat.
“Here in Cambodia our best-selling books are those about Angkor Wat. Readers want to know the background and history of this wonderful temple,” he said.
Meng Hieng is proud of the relationship between his bookshops and education.
“As a businessman, you might be richer in other businesses, but being a bookseller is a career that has great value.” He is proud of a career that links to education, and the difference his books have made in the acquisition of the English language among Cambodians.
“During the last five years, I have seen people’s reading speed increase continuously. I see many students come to my shop looking for books that we have ever seen,” he said. “Now most Cambodians can communicate in English including motorcycle drivers and teenagers.
“Knowledge comes from many ways, such as some people love watching television or listening to the radio. But the more you read, the more you know,” he said.
Meng Hieng recalled that when the UN’s peacekeeping forces (UNTAC) came to work in Cambodia in 1991, he met a Canadian who asked him to establish a branch for the distribution of newspapers, magazines and books because there was no such business at that time.
He established a shop called “Bookazine” which operated for three years until UNTAC finished the mission and all forces withdrew from Cambodia.
When his Canadian associate returned home, he expressed doubt Meng Hieng said, and doubted the success of the business because the UNTAC period had ended and many foreigners had gone home.
That’s when he changed Bookazine to Monument Books and his business has carried that name since 1994.
He recalled difficulty during the early years owing to a lack of interest from others to join in the business with him and also facing the issue of copyright. Now, in the fullness of time, he has not only succeeded but expanded hugely in Laos and Myanmar.
“At first, I sold only good English learning books,” he said. By and by, he started bringing in books of general interest. Today, Monument Books has more than 1,000 diverse titles. Before establishing Bookazine, Meng Hieng worked in many places such as Cambodiana Hotel and Indochina Company.
Meng Hieng was a student in Cambodia in his younger years during periods of shortages of everything after long-life wars. In 1980s he studied at Psar Doem Thkav Primary School and continued at Toul Tumpong High School, gaining his diploma in 1991.
During the last 20 years, Monument Books has expanded to four branches in Cambodia, with the flagship on Norodom Boulevard, one at Phnom Penh Airport, one at Siem Reap Airport and one in the city of Siem Reap.