Not only a prominent name in the middle and upper-class retail market with impressive achievements, Maison Retail Management International is also becoming the dream company of the young generation who always aspire to define success. What is the reason behind this?
Despite the challenges of increasing inflation, a surge in layoffs, and rising environmental pollution reports, many businesses in the fashion industry are confidently navigating the crisis with courage and a forward-thinking approach in the Vietnamese retail market. One notable example is Mai Son, the CEO of Maison Retail Management International (Mai Son RMI), who has become a prominent figure in this regard.
In 2022, Maison RMI achieved success by entering the international market with the opening of its first MLB store at AEON Mall Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is projected that by the end of 2023, several other brands and stores under Maison RMI will follow suit in this land of temples. Meanwhile, the MaisonOnline.com e-commerce platform and Maison Online mobile shopping app have also witnessed significant growth, demonstrating the effectiveness of the company’s efforts to embrace the digital era. With a strong focus on customer satisfaction, Mai Son confidently plans to expand the total number of retail stores under Maison RMI to over 400 in the coming years.
Aiming to become the first or one of the first fashion retailers in Vietnam to issue an IPO so that the nation can actively participate in the growth and development of the industry and the company, CEO Mai Son shares her bold and progressive steps towards achieving this goal.
Hello Mai Son! Can you share your thoughts on the economic downturn’s impact on various industries, particularly the luxury fashion sector, which is experiencing worsening layoffs? Are you concerned about this situation, and what is your perspective on the opportunities that arise amidst the crisis?
At Maison Group – the first thing we had to do post-pandemic was put together the team and reassess our priorities and where best to deploy our capital and our resources. Unfortunately, the financial burden of the pandemic meant we had to make numerous lay-offs, re-structure teams to be working remotely and most often only one or two days a week. Getting the team back together, to work as one in a full-time capacity was our first mission and I am proud that our team of now 1550 people has never been stronger. With the buoyancy of the Vietnam economy, we have been fortunate enough to be able to capitalize on a rapidly growing demand for mass-aspirational fashion products and have consequently achieved record-breaking growth across all key financial and commercial metrics that we measure.
If you take even a mid-term view, I am extremely confident in the macroeconomic trend and development potential of Vietnam in the long term. We are continuing to expand our business with continuous new brand and store openings driven by the mid-to-long term opportunity rather than solely the last 2 quarters of difficult economic headwinds.
I believe opportunity is born out of crisis. While other companies try to shrink their footprint, we will continue to focus on the mid-to-long term, striving to enable millions of people in Vietnam to easily access their favorite brands.
What is Mai Son’s approach to human resource development as CEO? In your opinion, how does the company identify and retain talented individuals who are a good fit for the organization and motivate them to stay for the long term?
There are jobs everywhere. The difference is that talented individuals are looking for a career, not a job. We are building a company where anyone, regardless of their background, can start off in a position as simple as a store cashier, and with hard-work, determination and proven results, can become a highly paid leader in charge of managing a store, a brand, a region, or department for our business.
I estimate in total we will need to recruit over 2,500 new employees to meet our growth agenda. To support that, we established our Learning & Development department. This is a team dedicated to ensuring every new employee goes through a comprehensive on boarding and training program to ensure they are set up to succeed in their position with additional, ongoing trainings on sales, customer service, product knowledge, operational excellence, leadership skills and technical skills.
After nearly two decades of establishing and operating Maison RMI, what are the aspects that Mai Son is most pleased with and dissatisfied with?
Satisfaction leads to complacency. I want to always instill a culture of growth, regardless of how good things might be. Beyond what is going well, it’s important to embrace and not ignore areas that are underperforming in business. Deep rooted, systemic problems in a company are hard to fix and unfortunately many leaders often try to cover them up instead of addressing the root cause of the issue.
A company’s problems is a reflection of its leadership’s capabilities. Therefore, systemic issues are usually caused by leadership flaws. If you ask me what am I not satisfied with, it’s allowing myself or any leader of my team to ignore any inconvenient truths related to systemic issues which must be addressed openly.
As one of the successful pioneers in your industry, what, in your opinion, are the key areas that individual business owners/executives should prioritize in order to thrive and ensure the long-term sustainability of a fashion-related business in an ever-evolving field?
Throughout history, the survival of any species has not been due to strength, size or intelligence but the ability to adapt to change. The same is true in business. Change is the only thing that is guaranteed in business as in life. Trends come and go along with customer tastes and preferences. That is why for Maison RMI, our number one priority is understanding our customers. This to us comes down to aligning your company culture to your financial model and your North Star. If our team serve our customers better, they make more sales and they are compensated accordingly. It is an art and a science but without it, you will never truly reach your full potential.
Naturally though, however well you may plan, however robust your culture may be, problems will always arise. If there is a problem, I refuse to find out about it later. To do that as a leader, you must be intimately involved in the daily operation beyond just the numbers. For us, money is made on the shop floor and so that is where I still to this day spend a lot of my time.
After years of leading the high-end fashion industry, what valuable life lessons have you learned from your experiences in this field?
I have learned too many lessons to count running Maison RMI in Vietnam for 21 years. I will list a few of them here, in no particular order:
Win-Win partnerships. Our business, as with most great businesses, is built on partnerships. For us that means partnerships with our brands, partnerships with our landlords and partnerships with our key suppliers. Everyone wins, everyone makes money and the participation in making money is fair and commercially minded. In short, do not be greedy but don’t ever get bullied either.
Not selling to your yourself and selling to your custome. Many business owners, particularly in retail, often in F&B and I am sure in other industries, design their products, value propositions and business practices to please themselves. They convince themselves that if they like it, why wouldn’t anyone else? This mentality can not only destroy businesses but also deteriorate motivation for key team members.
If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together – As you build a team, you will eventually hire a series of specialists. Making sure you hire the right people, give them the context and then work very closely with them to take their considerations into account is critical. Just recently our executive team had worked on an M&A deal with another retail in Vietnam. We all wanted to do the deal but our finance manager re-ran the model and brought to our attention major issues with their model that we hadn’t fully considered – she was by far the most junior person in the room but also the most specialized. Her advice saved us approximately $5m.
Businesses will stagnate over time, reaching a ceiling and then just merely existing – not innovating, not growing, just struggling through mediocrity. This ceiling is most often the ceiling of the leadership capability of the person in charge. To grow a business to any meaningful scale requires a large team. The challenge with large teams though is maintaining quality, commitment, and service levels – the key to this is to align incentives to outcomes.
There is never such a thing as an “overnight success”. True success takes time and effort in business as in life. In today’s social media driven world where seemingly ever other post is a self help guide to immediate success, I urge.
In a previous interview, you mentioned that health is the most valuable gift. So, focusing specifically on mental health, what enables a woman like yourself to consistently maintain passion and remain resilient in the face of challenges?
Reading Peter Attia’s “Outlive”, the premise is amazingly simple – instead of treating the disease and focusing 95% of our attention there and 5% to prevention, why not flip it?
How much time have you spent actively visualizing your future, your goals, your desires and who you need to become to achieve the same. Your mind is a weapon, how you choose to harness it, is up to you. The entire concept of being discouraged is completely foreign to me – I have anticipated set-backs, disappointments and bumps in the road as “part of the package” on the path to success.
You cannot have both a strong and resilient mind AND no challenges or set backs at the same time. For those of you having a dark thought, or feeling discontent with your life – ask yourself what have you really done about it? Who do you need to become to achieve your goals and how much time have you spent modelling that behavior. Consciously processing these negative or distracting thoughts versus ruminating on them will be the difference between hours of focused work and leadership vs. Hours of fruitless mental labor.
What advice would you offer to individuals aspiring to pursue a career in the fashion industry or aiming to become leaders in this field?
My best advice for anyone who is keen to become a leader in the fashion field is to be very choosy about where you start your career and who you learn from. Frankly speaking, if you want to succeed in fashion retail in Vietnam, two or three years at Maison RMI or similar ones will give you an edge that most do not have. Understanding the nuances of success is critical to unlocking it.
The interview with CEO Mai Son (Editor Hong Đang) was published on L’Officiel in the special issue 𝗣𝗥𝗢𝗨𝗗𝗟𝗬 𝗩𝗜𝗘𝗧𝗡𝗔𝗠𝗘𝗦𝗘 October 2023.
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-Maison Corporation Communication Team-