US-based coffee giant Starbucks first entered the Cambodian market in 2015 with a small kiosk in Phnom Penh’s airport terminal. Since then it has expanded in the capital, while opening its first branch in Siem Reap last month. The Post’s Kali Kotoski sat down with Por Lim, general manager of Starbucks Cambodia, to discuss the company’s operations.
What was the initial customer response to Starbucks opening in Cambodia?
When we first opened in December 2015, our first customers were passengers travelling to other countries and tourist arrivals because of our location in the Phnom Penh International Airport. That really supported our brand and allowed us to begin expanding throughout Phnom Penh.
During the first few months of operations, there was a lot of interest from people wanting to learn more about the company. Of course they knew the brand name, but they didn’t know what the Starbucks experience was like.
Your second outlet was in Aeon Mall. How has it performed?
The Aeon Mall store helped us reach a broader customer base in the busy mall setting. When we came to Cambodia, we knew that we would open a few stores in the first couple years of operations. Our first store outside of the airport was supposed to be the BKK1 flagship store, but because of the time it took to renovate and construct on a former villa complex, we went to Aeon Mall first.
What is the purpose of a flagship store?
The BKK1 facility gives a huge footprint and is one of the largest Starbucks stores in all of Asean. We opened this store to cater to higher demand. Our general customer base comes from business people, young people and foreigners living and travelling through Phnom Penh. The BKK1 store gives customers a better atmosphere to relax and spend more time in. We also have a successful branch in TK Avenue and our newest one in Exchange Square.
How does Starbucks fit into Phnom Penh’s competitive coffee market?
It is hard for us to compare where we stand in the market because we just joined the market and only have a few stores while other coffee shops have been here for over 10 years. But what I can say is that we are in Cambodia for the long-term business potential and we want to continue to expand.
Starbucks has an international reputation for quality of service. Was it difficult to train and recruit staff to meet the company’s standards?
Because of the brand, we could easily recruit the number of staff that we need. And we are working very hard to make them store managers and coffee masters. This takes a lot of investment by the company to build those skills.
For a coffee master, they have to learn about the difference in preparing coffee and the different qualities of coffee beans. Plus, to become a coffee master, they have to be trained and pass the Starbucks test to be accredited. Overall, we currently employ a staff of 130.
How does your new branch in Siem Reap International Airport compare to the one in Phnom Penh’s airport?
The main difference is that it is open to the public, which is different from the one in Phnom Penh that was only accessible to those that had checked in and gone through the security procedures. The Siem Reap store is outside the check-in area of the airport with outside seating for more than 50 people. Total size of the store is 100 square metres, which similar to the size of our airport facility in Phnom Penh.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.