A return to the village of nippers

It was Mr Nguyen Thanh Liem who was the first person to spend time brainstorming to make nippers (tool used for cutting finger and toe nails and dead skins) in My Thanh Commune, Giong Trom District, Ben Tre Province. Once gaining command of the know-how, he instructed it to his family and other households in the village. Hence, a "village of nippers making" was formed.

Through years, the initial nippers making village in My Thanh Commune has been admirably developed and expanded to 5 adjacent communes, with more than 200 households involved in the business. The problem, somehow, remains that almost all the above nippers making households still can not shake off their initial status of "outsourcers"!

Outsourcers, the underdogs

" In the period of around 10 years after 1975, there was an increasing scarcity of foreign imported nail nippers in the market, and they were mostly sold in the black market, so they were very expensive then," said Mr Nguyen Thanh Liem, who had been the "founder" of the first nippers making village in My Thanh Commune.

"At hairdresser's shops, there was a trend to reuse old nippers made in France and Gremany that had been bought before 1975 and reused for many years by sharpening again and again many times," he said.

"There were also some kinds of fingernail nippers sold in the market," Mr Liem added, "but they were of low quality and didn't do the good job of nails clipping for they were not sharp and didn't cut well enough, and especially, they couldn't be used for long."

"In 1979, the nail nippers was haunting me all the time while I was a hairdresser, for the nippers in use would be worn out of shrapenings. So at first, I tried to solder new clipping heads to the nippers, and it worked satisfactorily. Since then, my hairdresser's shop no longer had to worry about the problem of "bad cut" nippers that my customers had been elergic to."

"With the nippers heads being able to attached and re-sharpened, so why not make a whole new pair of nippers for my own use in the shop? It was this question that has engaged me in the business until now," Mr Liem confided.

So, after "divorcing" the hairdressing business, Mr Liem spent most of his time and efforts in learning the know-how for making nail nippers. He took use of what ever he could find from discarded steel materials, cut and hammered them into blades of 0.62 cm to 0.65 cm in width and 12 cm in length. Then he pored holes on both blades and screw them together. This was called the black nippers, or initial nippers that could barely do the cutting work.

The problem is, Mr Liem knew for sure he had to work very hard before he could produce a true pair of nail nippers, which was to be finely finished and sharp. It seemed that he had to run up a high hill in doing these tasks, for all the works had to be done by hands using handicraft tools.

"It seemed unbelievable ... To put it like this: The nippers I made were all sold out at once. The demand, especially from hairdressers' shops, was so tall that I could not meet them all the time," Mr Liem recalled in happiness.

Mr Liem's nippers making facilities had worked like a seeding bed for the business to mushroom in the village at the moment. Many of the local workers, who Mr Liem had employed and taught the know-how, later spinned off to open their own businesses around the village. To date, there have been over 150 households and 80 private units of nipper making in My Thanh Commune; each of them now employs 7 to 10 workers.

More impressively, the nippers making in My Thanh has also fostered the sprout of more than 50 other nippers makers scattering in neighbouring communes such as Luong Quoi, Luong Hoa, Luong Phu, Phong My, Phong Nam (Giong Trom District). That's not say many of the workers after working at local workshops have migrated to work for larger companies in Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Tien Giang, Vung Tau, etc.

Meanwhile, most nippers making units in Giong Trom are now faltering into doing the "outsourcing" work for large businesses elsewhere. That is, they only make the "black nippers" and then transfer to larger businesses in Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces. "Black nippers" then undergo finishing processes such as sharpening, polishing and plating, then labeling and packaging before being put into the market.

Such big players in Ho Chi Minh City are the ones who draw in the most profits from the business because the nippers are sold in the market at prices 3 times higher than the input costs. Of course, to bear the risks as well as to reap such huge profits, these businesses have to be fat cats.

But Mr Liem, the one-time hairdresser, is the only one exception in Giong Trom. He now is the owner of the Kiem Liem, the largest affiliate of the My Thanh Nippers and Cutters Making and Trading Cooperative. Not only able to make the nippers, his business can also market its own products directly to users, skipping the middleman businesses.

The Super Liem Nipper Trademark

Magnetic grinder at Mr Liem's company

Early 2004, the My Thanh Nippers and Cutters Making and Trading Cooperative was deemed to dissolve. The reason was simply reported by the cooperative members that in reality the cooperative only nominally existed, no more than a formality entity, and without real substance, so it was unable to carry out true business operations, and of course no way to "wade" in the market-driven economy.

In November, 2004, after the cooperative was dissolved, Mr Liem bravely decided to form his own company named the Ben Tre Nipper and Scissors Production and Trading Limited Company (address at 201, Provincial Road 885, My Thanh Commune, Giong Trom District). Mr Liem said, he had registered his new trademark: "Super Liem Nippers".

Now, Mr Liem is better active in production than before. He has invested billions of Vietnamese dongs to import new machinery from Western countries for use in nippers making, such as moulding-machine, milling-machine, drilling machine, magnetic grinder, stone grinder, sanding machine, and plating system.

Mr Liem's company is employing about 30 workers of all levels, with daily earnings ranging from VND30,000 up to VND70,000 - VND80,000. His products now may be sold in the market between VND8,000 a piece for the cheapest and VND15,000 a piece for the best ones. This is almost 15 times cheaper than the products of the same quality made in Germany and France, discloses Mr Liem.

Mr Liem says, many Viet kieu (overseas Vietnamese) have come to his company to buy new nippers and ask his company to help them sharpen hundreds of used nippers. This is for a profit, Mr Liem articulates. "In Australia, for example, to sharpen such a pair of nippers may cost up to US$3, that's three times the highest price of a new pair of "made in My Thanh-Ben Tre" Super Liem Nippers," he says. Especially, Ms My An, a Viet kieu in Australia, has come to Mr Liem's company seeking to learn nippers sharpening!

Super Liem nippers now have gained rather strong ground in several domestic markets such as Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho City, several Mekong Delta provinces and many other parts of the country. In recent years, Super Liem nippers have also been awarded with medals at national trade fairs, such as the Gold Medal at the International Trade fair Expo Ha Noi 2003, Gold Medal at the Vietnamese High Quality Trade Fair in Da Nang 2004 and another Gold Madel at the Vietnamese High Quality Trade Fair in Can Tho 2005.

The only setback for Mr Liem's nippers business is that, his company is currently in a shortage of performing capital to invest in expanding production for export to foreign markets.

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