Like many small enterprises in Yangon, Hlaing Hlaing Phyo Co., Ltd. diversifies across a few different business activities. In particular, they produce home decorations as a core business but also assemble non-food item (NFI) kits for humanitarian relief operations. (Because disasters are unpredictable, many businesses that supply NFI kits do it as a side business.) We recently sat down for a conversation with Hlaing Hlaing Phyo’s owner, U Nay Myo Hlaing, to learn more about their operations.
Good Morning, U Nay Myo Hlaing. Thank you for meeting with us. To begin, we would like you to please tell us a bit about your business.
My business, Hlaing Hlaing Phyo Company has three main functions: manufacturing ceiling decoration materials and interior decoration materials, importing curtains textiles, household items, kitchenware, bedroom accessories (mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets) and taking orders for curtains sewing. Beside my own business, with two friends we have a partnership business, which specifically supplies to fill various INGOs demands. The typical demands are family kits, hygiene kits, newborn kits, non-food items kits, first aids kits etc. All the kits include various items and we purchase them by using all our resources.
How did you get started in your business?
In 2008, after the Nargis cyclone that happened in Myanmar, most parts of the country needed resettlement so various INGO were looking for suppliers to purchase household and those things needed for a whole family for their everyday life, health and safety. I was already importing some bedroom accessories and household items. I got contacted and informed by Save the Children INGO and they also encouraged me to supply those items. It was when I established partnership with my two friends and started taking tenders from INGO. It totally changed my business.
Can you tell us more about your sector? Is it more or less competitive now than it used to be? What skills or knowledge does a business like yours need to be successful?
Basically, our sectors are the home decoration sector (construction & renovation) and household essentials sector. I manufacture ceiling items and interior decoration materials and I import and sell household essentials. Of course it is more competitive now then it used to be. When my two partners and I started in 2008, there were only a few competitors but now there are more… How do we try to be successful? It’s not that complicated. We focus on giving not only good quality products but also those products which match the budget and needs of the people who will use the products. We carefully select our suppliers, brands and quality of products so that we can give attractive and useful samples for the tender application and win the tenders. We also focus on using our workforce and resources efficiently and effectively to save on cost and lessen waste.
Please describe how you first learned about Building Markets.
I was introduced by a close friend. I was also aware of Building Markets because I read news and articles which featured Building Markets. Building Markets verified my business and has been helping my business to receive tender information and to connect to new INGOs which become my potential buyers.
Who are your typical customers or clients?
My typical customers or clients are various INGOs who are actively participating in developing people’s lives, living conditions and health. Since I also import, sell and manufacture household and home decoration materials, I have customers for those items, too.
How has Building Markets helped your business? Have we helped you get more contracts or meet more potential customers?
Building Markets has been helping my business to connect to more potential buyers because of its matchmaking services and networking events. I feel very positive to get tender information because I don’t have to worry about not awarding some tender information and also forgetting deadlines for apply them. Building Markets matchmaking services not only gives me some push to apply for tenders but also helps me apply for them in time with the qualified proposal and bids. Your tender distribution service saves me time and energy, as it centralizes all tenders in one click. Also, I can rest assured that I will be informed on those tenders which are relevant to my business. One of my partners attended Building Markets’ general procurement training and it helped her to polish her procurement knowledge. According to her, she could prepare the proposals systematically as she learned about procurement procedures and how to become a qualified bidder. We are waiting for results of one tender that we learned about from Building Markets. We were also selected as a back up supplier for a tender matched by Building Markets. I feel very positive and enthusiastic to apply more tenders because of Building Markets continuous encouragement and sharing tender information.
Have you hired more employees (permanent or temporary) to meet the demands of those contracts?
I have not hired permanent employees, as our management is a bit scattered and we have limited financial resources. We try to maximize the workforce that we have. But, in the near future, there will definitely be more permanent employees as we will have ability to apply for more tenders and now we are in the process of recruiting. We had to hire some temporary employees for some tasks such as packing, assembling, forming kits and delivery.
What do you see as a future for your business?
For the future, I do believe there will be more competitors, there will be more opportunities, too. I feel positive and also excited to expand the business… Most of the demands are based on emergencies and natural disasters now, but if there are regular demands in the future, I would like to upscale my business and manufacture those items which are specialized for those INGO demands.
Are there any particular obstacles that prevent you from scaling up your business? ( i.e. getting a loan/banking issues)
There are not a lot of obstacles but some related to our financial capabilities to upscale the business. For example, most of the INGOs quotations and tenders are more emergency based demands. They usually have to procure a lot of things for resettlement for public in a short period of time. After the purchase, it sometimes takes awhile to receive payment. So, we would benefit from official loans with affordable interest rates to invest in purchasing goods and materials [to fulfill contracts]. Currently, the interest on informal loans we have taken in the past can sometimes be higher than the benefits we make from those tenders.