Pean Taing’s story, like the beautiful gems his his store, is multi-faceted. And, just like it’s difficult to select a final choice from among the large assortment in his jewelry store, it is difficult to know where to start when sharing his story.
Mr. Taing’s parents were forced to flee the war in China in the 1940s, leaving behind farmland that had been in the family for generations. With their young and growing family, they settled in Cambodia where they set up business, opening a jewelry shop in Angkor Wat, just six kilometres from the world-famous temple. There, they lived peacefully and happily, learning their new trade.
When Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge came to power, Mr. Taing was in his twenties. Once again, his family faced the need to make a choice of whether to face imminent death or flee from a despotic and murderous political regime. Mr. Taing fled, with a small group, traveling by night through the thickest of jungle to cross the border to Thailand.
The journey – which should have taken two days – took five torturous days and nights. It is almost impossible to imagine what it is like to be on the run like this for anyone who has not had to experience it. The challenges of fleeing are physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.
The group navigated through jungle so thick that Mr. Taing and his fellow refugees had to climb trees to see where the sun was in the sky so they could make sure they were still heading in the right direction. In extreme heat, the only water they found was cupped in the large leaves of the jungle trees after a rainfall. And luckily for them, they had a former military man in their group who could watch for landmines and help avoid them.
Once in Thailand, Pean Taing lived in, or next to, a refugee camp for two years. While there, Mr. Taing was able to get work with someone his family knew as they had done business with a Thai company.
The Canadian government sponsored many Cambodians to come to Canada and, like most refugees, Mr. Taing remembers the exact date of his arrival in Canada: January 12, 1979. He came to Canada with the clothes on his back, an extra sweater in a gym bag, and $5 in his pocket. His sister and their parents, however, were killed by the Khmer Rouge – three of the estimated 1 to 3 million Cambodians who suffered the same tragic fate.
Mr. Taing’s first job in Ottawa was mowing the lawns at the Beechwood Cemetery but he soon found work more suited to his skills and jewelry experience. Then, he opened a jewelry shop at the Rideau Centre in partnership with a Hungarian man – also a refugee – who specialized in watch repair.
In 1986, when his business partner retired, Mr. Taing relocated to Place d’Orléans and then, in 2001, to his current location at 3007 St-Joseph Boulevard. The store boasts what may very well be the largest selection of wedding ring patterns and styles in Ottawa, perhaps Ontario. With over 1,000 styles and patterns to choose from, Taing Jewelers has something to fit every budget and taste.
When asked what advice he would give to a young person starting out in business now, Mr. Taing pauses and reflects deeply. His advice is congruent with everything around him. There are two main tenets in his philosophy.
The first is about strategy. He advocates for long-term thinking. He states, “Owning a business is sometimes difficult. The best thing is to stick with it. There will always be downturns and upturns in business. You have to plan ahead.”
The second tenet of his philosophy is related to customer service. Taing Jewelers has served four generations of families in the Ottawa area. Mr. Taing mentions this quietly but it is clear that the fact families have entrusted him with their jewelry buying decisions for so many years truly touches his heart. He observes that modern businesses seem to be missing some vital elements in the area of customer service and providing that personal touch. That is what he has built his business on. And it shows: The store is filled with shoppers and each is greeted with warmth and a sense of humour. Shoppers are also provided with exactly what they need, whether they are there to browse, to buy, or to have a piece of jewelry or watch repaired – all of which are done on-site.
“Word of mouth and reputation is everything.” He adds with a smile, “You never know where you will run into a customer. When I had major surgery recently, I discovered that my doctor was a long-established client of mine. I was pleased to learn he enjoyed many positive experiences with me in my store.”
3007 St-Joseph Boulevard