Mandalay-based Sein & Mya Mattress Industry Co., Ltd. is one of the country’s leading manufacturers of mattresses. Founded in 1994, it has two factories in Mandalay and seven stores nationwide, including one in Yangon. The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Hsu Mon talked to the company’s founder U Kyaw Min about what it takes to succeed in Myanmar as an entrepreneur.
Question: When you started your mattress business 20 years ago, how much capital did you have?
Answer:I opened this business in 1994 with just two million kyats [roughly US$2,000 at the current exchange rate] and 15 employees. I started out producing silk-cotton mattresses and related accessories. We just had a small retail store. My wife sold the mattresses, while I sold mattress accessories door-to-door around Mandalay. The business kept growing, and now we have 200 employees at seven branches around the country. We also have two factories. This year, the president [U Thein Sein] named me the number one medium-sized manufacturer in Myanmar.
Q: What kind of factories do you have?
A: I have a spring-mattress factory and a furniture factory. We will also have a foam-mattress factory that will begin operation soon, and I plan to open another in Yangon in the near future.
Q: Do you only compete in the local market? Who are your main competitors?
A: Yes, our main market is local. This business is quite broad, with many other local manufacturers producing a variety of goods. But I don’t think in terms of competing with anyone else. I just focus on improving our products.
Q: What is your share of the market? And do you plan to expand to foreign markets?
A: It’s always difficult to get exact figures in Myanmar, because nobody is doing proper research. It’s especially difficult to know in this business, because it includes such a wide range of companies. But if I had to guess, I would say that our share of the domestic market is about 30 percent. And yes, we plan to start exporting in the future.
Q: Where do you get the materials and technology you need for this business?
A: The raw materials mostly come from Thailand and China, while the technology is from Europe.
Q: What is the key to your success?
A: The most important thing is quality control and constantly creating new products to meet the customers’ needs and the market situation. Customers are always our top priority.
Q: Would you agree with those who say that local products are inferior? Are you confident that you can compete with imported goods?
A: As long as we maintain quality control, we will do fine. We have a dedicated quality-control team, and all of our employees are trained to pay close attention to the quality of our products.
Q: Are you concerned about next year, when the Asean Free Trade Agreement will go into effect? How prepared are you for the changes this will bring?
A: I’m pretty confident that we can compete. We already have a well-established brand and fully functioning factories. We can also provide better after-sales service than foreign companies. And we also sell some foreign products ourselves, including Darling spring mattresses from Thailand and mattresses and leather beds from Baland, a US-registered company. We also import mattresses from Vietnam.
Q: What kind of support do local manufacturers need from the government? Is the lack of infrastructure a problem for you?
A: The major thing we need is financial support. We need better access to credit so that we can improve our technological capacity and human resources. We’re also at a disadvantage when it comes to raw materials, because foreign companies have an easier time getting the materials they need, whereas it takes us a lot more time and effort. But mainly, I would say the biggest problem is credit, and the relatively high interest rates in this country.
Source: THE IRRAWADDY Myanmar