[health-vn] Vietnam's condom business goes upscale
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Fri May 15 15:27:59 EST 2009
Last Updated: Friday, May 15, 2009 11:23:09 Vietnam (GMT+07)
Vietnam's condom business goes upscale
Nguyen Khanh Phong, 28, stands at the door of his condom store in downtown Ho
Chi Minh City. In Vietnam's fast-growing commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City,
most people buy cheap condoms from no-frills roadside kiosks, at the drug store,
or in supermarkets.
But two brothers have opened an upmarket condom boutique here, saying customers
want more choices and more sophisticated options – even in a country known for
being socially conservative and where sex education is taboo.
"Doing this business is good for the public and society," says Nguyen Khanh
"We went to the authorities and asked for permission and they allowed us," adds
his 21-year-old brother Nguyen Hoang Long.
"Now things come easier," he adds, noting that the business – open for more than
two months now – is thriving.
The shop, called Volcano, makes no attempt to hide what it's selling. Condom
boxes are stuck to the glass doors of the tiny store, the walls are painted
pink, and shelves are stacked with condoms from across Asia.
"We spent a lot of money," Phong says. "It looks friendly."
The Fuji Shock brand from Japan is currently one of the most popular amongst
Volcano's customers, even though it costs about five times as much as the
VND5,000 (29 US cents) box of locally made VIP condoms.
"When they take this out, it's like some chocolate candy," Phong says, showing
off the shiny wrapper.
Another Japanese condom on display has a light that illuminates when the man
"Our customers really like the design of the Japanese condoms," Long adds.
High-tech Japanese condoms are not for sale at Tai Sanh's condom kiosk, one of
many spread out in the ethnic Chinese quarter of the city.
Cigarette in hand, Sanh, 60, sits on a low red stool behind his display case
filled with boxes of VIP condoms. Customers looking for something more exotic
may opt for the X-Men. At VND10,000 each, the condoms come equipped with round
Sanh says roadside vendors make the process of buying condoms much easier,
especially for the city's legion of motorcycle riders who can simply pull up,
make their purchase and quickly be on their way.
"We sell a lot," Sanh says, adding that he stays out of trouble with the
authorities by not selling pornographic DVDs, sex toys or fake anti-impotency
drugs, which are banned.
In the capital Hanoi last month, authorities seized bags of aphrodisiacs and sex
toys hidden in a tree along a street known for the illicit business.
Making and distributing pornography and other "debauched cultural products" can
be punished with jail terms of up to 15 years in Vietnam.
But such material is still easy to find.
At one Chinese medicine shop in HCMC, a vendor scurried to the back of the
store, where he furtively demonstrated a battery-operated purple and red dildo
that lit up.
Long and Phong stick to selling condoms, however, which they say is a big enough
market in a country where attitudes about sex are changing – especially among
"Vietnamese are open-minded people," Long says.
They say they want to offer their customers the widest variety of condoms
available and stock many locally-made brands, although Phong says they lack
The brothers say their customers are willing to pay more for quality and
service. Frequent buyers receive a discount. For their more bashful customers,
they offer delivery service.
"To open this shop we spent more than VND20 million ($1,100)," but first-week
sales reached around VND1.5 million ($84) and revenue now exceeds VND10 million
per week, Long says.
The pair say they will open new condom outlets next month in HCMC and in nearby
Tay Ninh Province, and are also looking for a location in the central city of
Hue, Vietnam's ancient royal capital.
Business may be good, but in a city where billboards warn about the dangers of
HIV/AIDS, the brothers say they are actually serving a greater good, one backed
by the authorities.
"The government is encouraging us to sell this," Long says.
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