On our last day in Sa Pa, our tour guide Thang told us he was going to take us on a hike through the rural farm land.
As we walked out of the city, a group of about six Hmong women began to follow us. When we asked Thang what they were doing, he responded “Oh, they’re just going to help you on the hike, it gets pretty steep in some places.” Needless to say, this made us a bit uncomfortable. These strangers were going to be with us on an all day hike, and then they would demand that we buy something? We asked (begged) Thang to tell them that we weren’t interested in buying anything, but he just shrugged it off and told us it would be OK.
However, as the hike began, we began to realize that we might need them. The hills were much steeper than we imagined, and since it had rained the night before the entire hike was through slippery mud. Almost immediately, my Mom — who had previously been so adamant for Thang to send them away was clinging to two Hmong women for support. My Dad tried to hold onto his dignity for a big longer, but it didn’t take him too much time to also take on help to survive the hike. As for myself, my pride got the best of me, so I opted for the mud bath route.
As we continued, the women began to chat with us (in surprisingly good English) about our lives. You could tell that their conversation with us was genuine, and that they were truly interested in what life was like outside of their village, which they have never left. As we walked with them, a personal connection began to form. We were no longer being followed by pesky merchants looking to sell their wares, but rather we were being assisted by genuine, interesting people who cared about us and had very unique outlooks and experience in life.
At some point, I started to realize that this was a pretty brilliant way to make sales. To form a personal connection and undergo a beautiful experience like this hike with your customer is quite the angle for a salesperson. I asked Thang how often the group was able to make a sale, and he this:
“Maybe every other trip, sometimes they don’t get lucky.”
Remember — this was not a short one hour walk, this hike was about six or seven hours through mud, rivers, and up mountains. Of my entire month long trip in Vietnam, this moment is what stood out to me the most. This group of women, ranging from about 17–60 years old work extremely hard everyday for a 50% chance of selling a bag or textile. I don’t know many people who would get up every day and take a seven hour long hike in the hopes of selling one or two bags AND be so genuinely enthused about doing so.
Needless to say
When the hike finally ended, my family, who had not purchased a single bag in Sa Pa up to this point ended up spending probably the most we spent at any single spot in Vietnam. My parents raved about how they definitely could not have finished the hike without the help of the Hmong. While I didn’t receive any direct assistance from them, I had enjoyed their company, and was grateful to them for helping my parents out. The prices they offered us for their wares were about 2–3 times higher than the going rates in the city, but they had provided such a unique experience to us that we gladly paid the premium.
The main takeaway I had from this experience was that no matter who you are, being hard working, genuinely interested in the other person, and a bit creative goes a very long way — especially in sales. This group of women were truly a large part of my inspiration to start HmongStudios. Partially to tell their amazing story, but also so that these wonderful people will not have to trek seven hours every day in order to sell their bags.