Ice cream popular but not so profitable
With an old bike and an ice cream container, Nou Ngim and her husband Mon Rin used to travel everyday across villages in Takeo Province to sell ice cream to support the family. Eventually she realized this business could not sustain her family in the long run, and after five years of ice cream selling, she decided to change her career path to make concrete products, which she admits has changed her life.
At the age of 35, Ngim is now a sanitation supplier and businesswoman in Sla Commune, Samraong District of Takeo Province with a diverse business producing concrete products, selling locally woven silk scarves and raising farm animals.
From ice cream to water jars to toilets
Selling the ice cream for five years was not an easy job for the couple. Not only did the business provide little and irregular income depending on the season but it also required a lot of effort to run. Every morning, Ngim woke up early to get the ice cream container tied to the bike ready for her husband. Sales barely generated enough income to support the family; thus, while at home, Ngim needed to weave scarves and raise farm animals to bring in extra money. Her husband often suffered from muscle pain, so with the lack of income and his health problems, they finally decided to give up the business.
In 2002, Ngim found out that making concrete water storage jars might be a good business for her family as some people she knew in the village earned considerable income. Her family then began making concrete water jars to order. They had no transportation to deliver the product; therefore, they made the jars at the customer’s house.
After two years Ngim and her husband invested 300 USD, all the money they had saved and from selling pigs, scarves and jars, to expand their business into new concrete products such as bench seats and tables and purchased a motorbike and trailer so that they could now produce in bulk at home instead of at people’s houses.
In 2007, Ngim decided to grow her business further by supplying latrines. She invested her money, which she saved from the jar business, to purchase concrete molds and materials necessary for latrine production.
A new sales model
During the expansion of WaterSHED’s Hands-Off program into Takeo province in 2011, the WASH Marketing team met Nou Ngim. Upon hearing how the local WaterSHED facilitator could help her with business, marketing and sales support, she was keen to participate in training and to learn how to make and sell the lower cost latrine core.
After joining the program and recruiting sales agents engaged on commission, she noticed that her business improved. Her latrine business has grown from 10% to 40% of her total sales. Each month she sells up to 20 latrine sets, which is ten times more than before. She has expanded her sales area beyond Trapeang Srang village to 13 other surrounding villages where her sale agents conduct sale events.
Ngim organizes direct delivery to her customers and includes the cost in the sales price. Furthermore, she now employs seven masons at her business— three make the concrete jars, two make the bench seats and tables, and another two make latrines. Ngim charges 40 USD for one latrine core set (ceramic pan, concrete slab and three pit rings). From the sale of one latrine core set including all costs – labor, delivery, and material, Ngim earns 5 USD.
“Before I did not know that this [latrines] business is very good. Since WaterSHED team has helped me to inform people about sanitation and the benefits of using latrine, my business is growing much bigger,” she said.
Another interesting aspect of her business is that selling latrines has enabled her to promote all her other products. Supplying the latrines to 13 other villages, Ngim always remembers to write her phone number on every single product she produces. When the villagers met her during the delivery or saw her number, they often call back to order other concrete products.
Now that her business is stable, Ngim has been thinking of further expanding. “I need 10,000$ to buy land and expand my sale to a much bigger scale,” she added.