Couple uses entrepreneurial spirit to serve Hmong in area

Monday, October 26, 2009

Q You just moved into this new building in July. Why did you buy the building?

A Chungyia Thao: Our business has expanded and we need a bigger space. We'd like to bring other businesses in here so when our customers or clients come in, we'd like to tell them we have other services too.

Q You're thinking of this as a one-stop shop for Hmong people?

A Chungyia: Right. We have three businesses (tenants) already. One is mortgage. One is my brother-in-law who is doing Hmong language classes and he is a Hmong cultural consultant. The third one is a home care agency from Michigan.

Maiyoua Thao: Other services that we'd like to see are like insurance or investments.

Q You own four businesses catering to the needs of the Hmong community, including translating services, a business and residential directory, a grocery and a home care agency. The home care is new?

A Maiyoua: Yes. It's for seniors and disability. The elderly are the ones who are suffering from the injuries from Laos or depression.

Q Is the need very big?

A Chungyia: We get calls every day for PCW (personal care workers). The Hmong parents don't want to go live in assisted living because they don't have Hmong food. They don't have Hmong workers. It's hard to communicate.

Maiyoua: The elderly don't want to go to a nursing home. It costs less to stay home than go to a nursing home. (PCWs) help with daily living activities and personal hygiene. We can help them until they get very severe and they need more skilled care. We send a nurse in to assess what kind of needs they have. The PCW have to have six months experience or train for 40 hours in training classes. We do TB tests and background checks.

Q What is your translation service?

A Maiyoua: It's Hmong to English. We also have Spanish, American Sign Language and other languages.

Q Why did you sell your Asian Taste restaurant in Appleton?

A Maiyoua: It's a lot of work. We added a nightclub to it because there wasn't any entertainment for Hmong people between age 30 to 55. We work here Monday to Friday, and then Friday evening we had to be there. Saturday night we had to be there.

Q You have a lot on your plate and you also have four sons. Why start all these businesses?

A Chungyia: My part of the family, we have businesses. Her part of the family also has businesses. They've been doing business for generations.

Q So you both come from entrepreneurial families?

A Maiyoua: Our parents started their businesses here and we learn from them. The more we do, the more we see many directions out there. Many opportunities. The more we do to help our community, the more we see the needs out there. Doing one thing leads to another.

Q You helped the last wave of refugees get settled. Are any of them starting businesses?

A Maiyoua: One started his own business, a sushi business in a grocery store.

Q What skills do Hmong people need to learn to adapt to business here?

A Chungyia: They have a lack of management skills. If you don't have management skills, you cannot go very far. They tend to do grocery, and they think when they buy the product from the wholesaler, they just set it on the shelf and stay at the cash register. The customer walks in and gets what they want and they just collect the money. It's not that easy.

Q What is your overall business goal?

A Chungyia: Our goal is to meet our clients' needs. We not only do that, but we provide free service to them. One of our employees brings in a phone bill and we call the phone company and dispute the phone bill. If they get laid off, we call the state for them for unemployment.

Q But you can't make money if you do that.

A Chungyia: We think that as you own your own business you have to go extra mile to help your client, to help the community. They will advertise your service to the larger community.


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