SEATTLE - When you start a grocery store business in a 700 square foot location, most people wouldn’t expect it to become a chain store with three locations and a wholesale distribution center working with three countries halfway around the world… But Duc Tran has worked to achieve just that.
Tran, owner of Viet-Wah, a grocery store chain specializing in Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese foods, said he always saw owning his own business as his only option.
“I grew up in a business family. It’s always been in the family blood to own your own business,” Tran said. “I always hoped my children would take over the business one day; we’ll see what happens.”
Tran now owns three stores in the greater Seattle area and an import/export wholesale distribution location within the SoDo district, which does importing and exporting from three different countries within Southern Asia.
Leeching, daughter of Tran and manager within the company started formally working for her father’s company after graduating college in 2009. “I’ve been moving up and learning a little bit more year after year and learning the ropes of owning the company.”
When asked about Leeching taking over the company one day, Tran pointed out the differences in the generation.
Tran said having both those generational ways of thinking has been a big help. Having his daughter there helps connect the business with the younger audience. Leeching pointed out her role in connecting with that younger generation.
“We have the old way of thinking, and the new way of thinking,” he said. “The older generation, we like to cook. The younger generation, the working couples, they like easy stuff. I think our most popular product right now is the instant noodles.”
Regardless of generation or age, it’s obvious how much the Tran’s appreciate their customers.
“I think what sets us apart from all the other mom and pop stores is we have been here the longest, we are one of the oldest grocery stores (in the area) still existing today,” Leeching said. “It’s nice to have that history with our customers and to have those loyal customers who have been shopping here for decades and still keep coming back. We really appreciate that.”
Leeching said she wants to see the company continue to grow as she one day takes over the business.
“We have a Facebook page, which we try to post to regularly and get customer feedback. We also have a Twitter account,” Said Leeching. “My dad doesn’t really bother with social media and advertising, but you have to change with the times and change with your customers.”
“I think right now we are concentrating on finding our niche,” Leeching said. “Markets are changing a lot and the business is changing a lot, it’s a weird transition between generations of shoppers. We are trying to figure out where we fit in before we make any more big moves.”
Tran offered his insight into the further growth of the company.
“That’s why we just need to follow the trend of the younger generation; we are planning on targeting more instant stuff while still serving the older generations as well.” Tran said. After thinking for a moment, he added a final thought, “The food business will never die, because people need to eat.”
With two brothers who live in California working in graphic design Leeching wanted to stay close to the family business and hopefully take over the company one day.
According to Leeching, her father has always been very focused on family. She said within each of Viet-Wah’s three locations, many family members are still employed in vital positions.
Although successful the family wanted to do more and dig deeper into exporting and turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 7(a) loan program for $250,000 from American West bank in 1993 and more recently one for $1.5 million; to help to achieve those goals. “The loan was used for working capital and kept the company going. It was a great safety net to allow us to expand and keep operations running smoothly,” Leeching said.
Tran and Leeching travel overseas often to find new products to import and sell within their stores. Tran said he considers it the best part of owning his own company.
“I like to eat,” Tran chuckled. “I spend a lot of time overseas studying and developing new products and helping manufacturers develop the flavors and tastes. Then I get to bring those products here for people to try and enjoy.”
For more information on Viet-Wah.