Digital greeting cards and electronic stickers may have ridden the wave of mobile internet and smartphone popularity, but for a small exporter of hand-made cards and gifts to Europe, the art of traditional paper-based greeting cards remains promising.
‘‘Quality service and honesty are the most crucial elements of success for a small company like ours,’’ says Ms Kanchana.
"People in foreign countries, in particular our key market of Europe, still prefer to send paper greeting cards on various occasions, even though electronic cards have become popular and purchasing power has weakened since the financial crisis," said Kanchana Kallapan, who founded Pretty Greetings Co in 1999 with 1.5 million baht in registered capital.
"Differentiation and uncompromising quality are vital to stay afloat in unfavourable market conditions. More importantly, our products remain relatively cheap."
Pretty Greetings designs, creates and exports hand-made birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day, wedding, Mother's Day and new-baby cards and other handicrafts.
Ms Kanchana acknowledges that the business was far from lucrative in the first three years, with relatively low sales during the period.
This was the case despite the company's regular participation in several trade shows, especially in Hong Kong, where the main traders are from the United States.
Pretty Greetings won approval to use the Thailand Brand logo, a symbol of export quality, in 2000. This helped build confidence with customers worldwide.
It was not until the fourth year of operations that the company began seeing brighter prospects. It secured an order from the US publishing giant Reader's Digest for two containers of shipments.
The company reported record sales of 15 million baht in 2005 before its business was hit by cheap products from China and the volatile global economy in subsequent years.
Sales now stand at 6-10 million baht a year on average.
The signs have been encouraging this year. Customer response was positive after the company took part in the Paperworld annual trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany.
"We're quite lucky to have won five more customers from Poland, Israel and Japan, as large card makers have shunned the fair because of the euro zone's economic problems," said Ms Kanchana.
The company's customers are mainly in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Britain, France, Italy, the Czech Republic and Yugoslavia.
"Quality, good service and honesty are the most crucial elements of success for a small company like ours," said Ms Kanchana.
"Another key to success in our case is the fact that we do everything ourselves, ranging from design, production and marketing to participation in trade shows abroad."
Still, China's cards pose an increasing threat to Thai card exports.
"China is trying hard to get into the greeting card business, while Beijing has supported students studying in Thailand to learn from the Thai experience," she said.
"The Chinese government is giving full support to Chinese companies that want to go abroad, subsidising exhibition booth fees and relevant expenses."
But she insists China still fails to compete with Thai products on creativity.
"The Thai government should be more serious in its efforts to promote creative companies and the creative economy," said Ms Kanchana.
"Thai people already have a creative mind, superb craftsmanship and neatness. Creative business can add value to Thai products."
She laments what she sees as the incumbent government's inattention to creative businesses.
Based on her 20 years of experience, Thai governments offer very little support to Thai entrepreneurs. Most export-oriented Thai businesses succeed on their own efforts.
Ms Kanchana said the company is unmoved by the higher daily wage of 300 baht applied nationwide this year.
The company employs three designers and 15 employees, while working with more than 30 sub-contractors who mostly work from home. This set-up helps the company save costs for human resources.
About the author
- Writer: Chatrudee Theparat
Position: Business Reporter