When we talk about people who make a difference to the lives of others, Frankie Cai’s name is not one that would immediately pop up.
But if the provision of jobs and helping to lower the cost goods is a prerequisite, Mr. Cai is an obvious choice. Come to think of it, in a year where Samoa sorely needed more jobs after the closure of Yazaki Eds, Mr. Cai was among the first local companies to respond and delivered.
The 47-year-old Chinese businessman, who has been serving Samoa for more than 25 years, has quickly become one of Samoa’s biggest private employers.
With ten local supermarkets, he has more than 700 Samoans on his pay roll. A number of them were people made redundant when Yazaki shut its door.
But he wasn’t always the high profile businessman that he is today.
Mr. Cai came to Samoa as a young boy in his early 20s to work as a delivery boy for his uncle, who at the time owned a local store.
Prior to coming to Samoa, he worked for two trading companies in his homeland, China. It was there, he said, made him realise his passion in commercial activities.
He had no clue where Samoa was. But when he arrived, he noticed the lack of infrastructure development, especially the roads when he had to travel to Savai’i and around the island to deliver goods.
Like any tourists falling in love with the island life, Mr. Cai not only decided to stay, he made the decision to start a business.
“After my uncle, I decided to run a retail company,” he said.
“This didn’t really work out well because the turnover was not really good. Most of the time when I used to take ordered supplies to the stores around the island, they do not pay on time and it wasn’t very good for the business. The return wasn’t good.”
But he did not give up. He persevered.
Mr. Cai attributes the success of his supermarkets and the idea to enter the wholesale market to all his employees and those who were involved in the inception of the first supermarket.
“Every body worked together, went around to villages and tried to find out what if the need for a supermarket is paramount,” he said.
“So we decided to establish our own wholesale. We started off with a small shop, even people walking outside would say that’s such a dirty shop, but we had a lot of products there.
“A lot of people still came in because of the prices that was within the pockets of the locals. We bought the Morris Hedstrom here in Samoa at the time, and that’s how I started my business. I think Carpenters was trying to withdraw from a few islands and Morris Hedstrom wasn’t running well here.
“There wasn’t a lot of supermarkets at the time around Samoa, only Chan Mow was pretty well known.”
Competition today, he said, was tough among the business community, however the best strategy was to keep developing your business.
“To counter the challenges, we look at properly managing our shops and keeping it to international standards,” he said.
“We decided to upgrade our shop, the standard, hygiene and temperature of all coolers that it should be within international standards.”
Mr. Cai has also grown accustomed to the life and custom of the local community, thus his efforts of trying to make life easier and simpler for all Samoans.
“Because of the living standards in Samoa today, we still keep the prices at a low margin. I also build shops around areas where there it is populated so people can have access to goods and services instead of traveling long hours to town to get what they want.”
Mr. Cai is married to Mayday and they have a son and a daughter who are both studying in New Zealand. He believes education is the key to developing the lives of the locals, with the children being the agent of change.
“I plan to set up internet shops where children can come and learn after school hours and holidays,” he said. “If they can access internet, they would be able to learn about school work or for those who do not have computers at home, it could be an opportunity for them to learn.
“However social network sites will be blocked so that they can only focus on school work.”
Mr. Cai said Samoa is a good place to do business and despite the competition, he is here to make life easier for the Samoan people. And they love him for it.