AFTER building up her Thai snack-food business into an operation with sales of Bt50 million a year, Tanvarai Tophan has a new ambition: to expand outside the country. Tanvarai plans to export her green bean snacks under the J&N brand to Laos as part an effort to boost sales growth into the double digits this year.
“We are negotiating with a Lao importer to purchase our products for distribution in Laos and that should take place in the second half of this year,” said Tanvarai, founder and managing director of J&N Limited Partnership, in an interview with The Nation.
Tanvarai, now 47, decided after getting married to move on from being a salaried employee and start her own business. In 1999, she opened a small shop in her community in Suphanburi province. As well as the shop, she also set up a small service station.
In the years up to 2006, her small business had to contend with volatility in oil prices that left her facing big losses for the service station operation.
“At that time, I tried to find out what business I could do that did not leave me exposed to volatile markets,” Tanvarai said. “Then I a met a worker at a 7-Eleven store who suggested that I do business with 7-Eleven by exploring what products could sell well in convenience stores.”
That discussion prompted her to work out the kinds of products that matched the needs of 7-Eleven customers, especially those in northern provinces. She dealt with the 7-Eleven purchasing department in Nakornsawan province covering 400 stores in the northern region.
“I decided to produce a green bean snack and offered it to 7-Eleven. The store accepted my product idea but suggested that I develop the production process to meet the stores’ standards,” she said.
Tanvarai said she took a year to develop the product and its packaging to meet the chain’s requirements, and spent Bt500,000 of her family’s savings to get the business off the ground. With both product and packaging meeting the high standards, the J&N green bean snack met with good response from 7-Eleven customers and was soon generating sales of Bt4.8 million a year.
Then came an opportunity disguised as a problem.
In 2012, the 7-Eleven purchasing department in Nakornsawan was shut down, requiring Tanvarai to deal with the company’s purchasing department in Bangkok and, ultimately, on a plan for nationwide distribution of her products.
Tanvarai rose to the challenge, choosing to expand production capacity. The move certainly paid off, as sales leaped from Bt4.8 million a year to Bt50 million at the end of 2016.
The successful entrepreneur shares the credit with 7-Eleven staff, who repeatedly made suggestions that opened up opportunity.
“Our business success came after we followed suggestions from 7-Eleven staff and then embarked on our goal of producing quality products for our customers,” she said. “That has put our business on a stable foundation for long-term growth.”