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Farm boy digs up tasty business idea

Updated: 2012-06-08 09:44
By Ma Lie in Xi'an ( China Daily)

Farm boy digs up tasty business idea

Wang Honggang puts vegetables into a vending machine in a residential community in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, on Thursday. Yuan Chen / for China Daily

Buying beverages from a vending machine one day planted an idea in Wang Honggang's head - using the machines to sell vegetables.

It's a way the college grad, who studied how to use computers to run machinery, could combine his education with his upbringing on a farm.

"It is a business familiar to me and my fellow villagers," said Wang, 26.

Since childhood, Wang had helped his father grow vegetables on their farm on the outskirts of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.

Yet with the expansion of the city, their farmland had to make way as high-rise offices and residential buildings ate up their vegetable fields.

"We talked about what to do next," Wang said, "and we agreed that we'd better continue with our vegetable business, in which we have the most expertise, but in a better and trendy way."

Then on a hot July day in 2010, Wang and some of his fellow villagers went shopping downtown and bought some beverages from a vending machine.

Suddenly they got the idea to sell vegetables with the machines, prompting Wang and six others to establish a company to do just that.

Then Wang discovered that the knowledge he learned in college was extremely helpful in redesigning the machines to sell vegetables.

The team also designed a small plastic package to hold the vegetables.

"They are reusable," Wang said. "We put a recycling bin next to each vending machine. That both decreases our cost and protects the environment."

At the same time, they rent farmland in the city's remote eastern suburb where they have 10 greenhouses to grow vegetables.

They started with eight vending machines, each based in a different residential community.

"The choice of placement for each vending machine is crucial," Wang said, "and our previous expertise in selling vegetables helps."

People typically rely on venders or supermarkets close to their homes for vegetables, Wang explained.

"But venders tend to close before most office workers are off work, and supermarkets are open until late but usually have higher prices," Wang said. "It leaves us a niche market to provide people who are busy at work with reasonably priced, fresh vegetables anytime within walking distance."

Wang and his partners chose residential communities with relatively better-off and busier white-collar employees.

Each machine maintains a temperature between -2 C and 8 C to preserve the freshness of the vegetables, which come directly from their production base and are available at a price competitive with supermarkets.

The idea has proved a success. In March, they installed another two vending machines in two new communities.

"Each of the new machines witnessed a 10 percent increase in business in May," said Liu Shaofeng, 41, one of Wang's partners and now manager of the company.

Zhou Hui, 38, who lives in a residential community, said she was glad to have the company's vending machine on the first floor of her building.

"My husband and I are both very busy with work. Thanks to the vending machine, now I can get fresh vegetables after work," Zhou told China Daily. "It is just located downstairs. And unlike vendors selling vegetables that usually leave garbage behind, it is clean."

For Wang, who also fills the machines with fresh vegetables, the better business is, the busier he is - and he is happy about that.

"I'm glad to be back selling vegetables, now 24 hours a day," he said.