Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop: reliving Macao’s good old times

08 2019 | Issue 34
Text/Lai Chou In and Tristy Chang

When speaking of old stores, many people will think of traditional family businesses. Nevertheless, when society changes over the course of time, it is impossible to do everything by the book. After decades or even a century’s presence in the market, store owners shall find another path besides remaining true to their original aspiration. In recent years, many old stores in Taiwan have opened a window of opportunity by merging cultural and creative elements into their brands. With a view to optimising brand image, Macao Cultural Industry Fund launched the Community Cultural Innovation Funding Scheme last year, providing subsidies to stores illustrating special features and to design enterprises.


In this issue of Feature, we invited the U Bo Wo Chinese Herbal Tea and Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop from Macao, and Yao de Herb from Taiwan to share their stories, with which we can take a closer look at how store owners can unlock brand values by integrating cultural and creative elements and offer a new experience to customers.

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Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop: reliving Macao’s good old times


Tam Kin Hong, Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop’s second-generation owner, has been thinking about whether he should continue running the business in the city in recent years. Located at the Rua dos Ervanários, Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop has been selling hand-made joss-sticks in Macao for over 50 years, witnessing the ups and downs of the city’s joss-stick manufacturing industry. The shop itself is also experiencing a business decline. It appears that the shop would have to go out of business in the future. However, with the support of the Community Cultural Innovation Funding Scheme, Tam has regained his confidence in the shop and has decided to keep running Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick until the business is no longer sustainable.


The decline: from Macao to the North

Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop was established by Tam’s parents in 1968, selling all kinds of joss-sticks to local customers. During that time, the joss-stick industry was thriving. The firecracker, firework and the joss-stick industry were considered to be the three traditional pillar industries for Macao. “I started to learn to make joss-sticks with my parents since primary school. At that time we didn’t have a physical shop. We were just selling joss-stickers on the street,” Tam recalled. The prosperity of the joss-stick industry started to decline in the 1980s as Mainland China started to open up and undergo market reform. Macao’s joss-stick industry began to transfer to Northern regions for lower costs. Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop was no exception. The shop’s physical outlet in Macao now only packages the joss-sticks and sells them.


Quit? Or make changes for new opportunities?

“Even in the mainland, there is no new blood in this industry because making joss-sticks doesn’t make much money and the working condition is quite bad,” Tam said, commenting that the joss-stick industry is dying. To make matters worse, the two devastating typhoons, Hato and Mangkhut, had destroyed many of the shop’s inventories and equipment as the shop was flooded. The flooding was as high as 1.7m, which was too overwhelming for the shop to withstand. “I am not young anymore. So I had thought about quitting the business,” Tam said. “But I would have nothing to do anyway if I closed the shop. I would lose something to hold on to.”


Besides, Tam still has a goal to pursue. He wants to make joss-sticks that can be used in daily life for leisure and entertainment. “I have always had this idea. But to make it happen, I would need raw materials with better quality,” he explained. “The manufacturing cost is relatively high, meaning it would be a big bet for a small shop. Also, I don’t have a sufficient promotion channel. I wouldn’t act on this idea without thorough consideration.” Last year, the Community Cultural Innovation Funding Scheme granted Tam funding. Tam aimed to cooperate with cultural and creative company Shang Sheng Entertainment Culture Co., Ltd. to renovate the shop and repackage the shop’s products in order to let Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick reach more people.


Old memories

History is the keyword for Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop’s revitalisation. “Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick is one of the remaining joss-stick brands in Macao. It not only reflects the shop’s business but also the history of Macao’s joss-stick industry,” Shang Sheng’s project designer Summer Pun said. “When revitalising Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick, we had been thinking about how to preserve its history because cultural revitalisation is not only about making things prettier. It is more about showcasing history in a way that meets modern aesthetics.” She pointed out that one of the shop’s biggest features is its wooden shelf and black brick walls. But since the wooden shelf had been severely damaged, they had no choice but replaced it with a new one. The black brick walls were preserved and added with a water-proof layer. Through this, Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick’s originality was preserved.


Besides the wooden shelf, the shop’s iron bar gate and shop sign were severely damaged and were no longer usable. But Pun thought about an idea to preserve them. “Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop has never changed its shop sign before. If the paint got worn out, they would just repaint it. These layers of paints represent Veng Heng Cheong’s history. So we decided to use the old shop sign as the main element when designing the products’ new packages,” Pun explained. As for the damaged iron gate, Pun removed parts of it and used the parts to decorate the wall. This works like an art installation when the lights are on, showcasing Veng Heng Cheong’s old memories.


A design that is compatible with the shop’s business operation

No matter how beautiful the new decoration is, it still needs to match the shop’s business operation. “The design was modified for several times because the original plan didn’t fit the shop’s business operation,” Pun recalled. “Then we came to the shop and observed. After that, we came up with a more practical plan. In addition, we also needed to consider the cost in terms of interior design and package design. We tried our best to accommodate the business owner’s conditions, hoping that he can continue to use our plan in future operation.”


Veng Heng Cheong’s renovation has been completed recently. Besides having a new look, the shop has also rolled out joss-sticks for non-religious uses, including joss-sticks made of agarwood. “We will roll out more new products in the future. The renovation project is only a start. We would need more time to build up momentum and then more people will notice us,” Tam said. In May this year, organised by the Cultural Industry Fund, Tam and other six business owners funded by the scheme joined the 15th China (Shenzhen) International Cultural Industries Fair, where they showed the outside world their stories and their brand’s value. Tam is hoping that there would be more opportunities to promote Veng Heng Cheong and the joss-stick industry in the future.


“As long as I am healthy and able to work, I will continue running the shop. I am not sure how many years will that be,” Tam said with a big smile. “If we were to close down in the future, we could at least create some good memories for the future. I hope my business can survive.”


Veng Heng Cheong Joss-stick Shop

Address: No. 13, Rua dos Ervanários, Macao


Shang Sheng Entertainment Culture Co., Ltd.