Mr. Pham Dinh Nguyen, General Director of PhinDeli Vietnam and proud owner of Buford town in the US, has a different perspective on business than most other entrepreneurs.
Mr. Pham Dinh Nguyen, General Director of PhinDeli Vietnam, caused a lot of controversy in Vietnam and elsewhere three years ago when he successfully bid to purchase the town of Buford, the smallest town in the US, located in Wyoming State.
Many people believed he was “crazy” to invest $900,000 in buying the 4-ha town, with a post office, a school, a gas station and a grocery store and just one resident! Even more surprising was that he borrowed most of the money for the purchase. Crazy or not, he’s now developing his Vietnamese coffee brand in the town.
■ Some people said that you paid too much for Buford. Mr. Don Sammons, its only resident and a businessman, said trade has halved since 2009. What are your thoughts?
With commodities, every person has a different perception. So it’s really no surprise that some people think it was expensive while others might think it was a bargain. I believe I paid a reasonable price. It was my destiny to purchase the smallest town in the US. Before coming to the town I had had never even set foot in the US. Luckily, when I applied for an urgent interview for a visa, just hours later, the Vietnamese Ambassador to the US informed me I would be interviewed. A friend of mine in America then helped me with the deposit before the bid expired.
■ Were you thinking at the time that you would develop Vietnamese coffee?
After buying Buford I still didn’t know what I would do to develop the land. Many people asked about my plans but I didn’t have an answer. Some thought I was just being cagey, refusing to reveal my plans. Because so many things were said I chose to remain silent for a time. I then found that coffee was what I wanted to grow on the land, because it is very popular in US and also a strength of Vietnam.
■ Most people just pass straight through Buford and don’t stay, while not many Vietnamese go there either. While Americans are familiar with mildly-flavored coffee, Vietnamese coffee is quite strong. Do you think there will be challenges in developing Vietnamese coffee on the land?
I like to think differently and do differently, and the result was that I was successful. Buford’s coffee has sold better than expected. Feedback from customers has been positive and they enjoy the flavor of Vietnamese coffee. The town has also increased its income significantly. The post and telephone office and the petrol station are still open, serving the people of neighboring towns and especially tourists. Convenience stores sell plenty of Vietnamese products, such as coffee, fish sauce, ceramic products, and Vietnamese music.
I continue to take my coffee to fairs in Asia, and took it to 7 Eleven, the largest convenience store chain in the world, and also to Walmart. My dream of bringing Vietnamese coffee to the world will face many challenges, but the first thing to do is actually sell the coffee.
■ Did you shake hands with the Kinh Do Corporation to develop a distribution system for PhinDeli in Vietnam?
My partnership with Kinh Do ended in 2014 due to different business perspectives. Before that I thought its strong distribution network would be suitable for my coffee products. But after we started there were many points of disagreement. Finally, I decided to terminate the partnership. In business, if you want to go quickly, you go alone. But if want to go far and sustainably, you need to have a companion. The market is always changing, and I still need to find partners, but cooperation in business is only achieved when the two sides trust each other and can reach a consensus. PhinDeli has been my enthusiasm all my life, so I won’t easily deliver it into the hands of others.
■ Why don’t you use the IDS Company, your international distribution company, as the distributor?
IDS’s distribution system is not suitable for coffee. IDS is strong in the north but not everywhere in the country. Coffee has a huge market and the competition is fierce due to many giants dominating the market. My coffee brand came later than others, so I must take a different direction in developing it. I chose “take-away coffee” as the development strategy, serving high-quality coffee in three kinds: black, cappuccino, and chocolate coffee. We also provide coffee franchises, putting coffee makers in university cafeterias, hospitals, and convenience store chains and fast food restaurants. Just a month after deploying the strategy we had more than 80 franchises selling PhinDeli take-away coffee. Even so, every day I must persevere to find new ways to help PhinDeli exist and develop. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly interesting.
Photo by brandsvietnam