Raised in Thailand, but courting success in Hong Kong

Raised in Thailand, but courting success in Hong Kong

Shoppers browse items at the Abouthai shop in Hong Kong. Abouthai has 16 branches in Hong Kong and four more are scheduled to open by April.
Shoppers browse items at the Abouthai shop in Hong Kong. Abouthai has 16 branches in Hong Kong and four more are scheduled to open by April.

Building a successful startup is the dream of every entrepreneur, but only a few are able to achieve it, with startups established outside the founder's home country being even rarer.

Even though Kanokwan Rerngrit and Taveephol Chardtumrong engage in different businesses, the duo has something in common -- they were born in Thailand, incorporated businesses in Hong Kong and successfully built multi-billion-baht companies.

Mrs Kanokwan, president and co-founder of Abouthai Hong Kong, set up a shop seven years ago in Hong Kong to import fruit, snacks, eggs, vegetables, Thai herbal compress balls and hygiene masks, all from Thailand.

Abouthai has 16 branches in Hong Kong and four more are scheduled to open by April.

She married a Hong Konger and moved there from Thailand's Lampang province, then saw an opportunity to import Thai goods for sale because they were difficult to find. Thais often asked her to buy goods whenever she visited Thailand.

Mrs Kanokwan, 30, together with her husband Mike Lam, started the business with an initial investment of HK$150,000 (604,000 baht). Abouthai now has annual sales of HK$600 million (2.38 billion baht).

She set a trend for buying and using Thai products in Hong Kong, which has been key for the success of her business.

Product development, including taste and packaging, and selling products quickly is crucial as rental rates in Hong Kong are steep. Promotions to clear products from the shelf are needed, said Mrs Kanokwan.

Apart from Abouthai's physical outlets, she has a shop on China's e-commerce platform that averages 13 orders of Thai-made products in shipping containers a month.

The company also exports to Singapore and Malaysia through Hong Kong-based skincare and cosmetics chain operator Sa Sa International Holdings' shops there.

In Hong Kong's business culture, large companies always provide support to small business operators to help them survive and become larger businesses, said Mrs Kanokwan. Sa Sa is like her business mentor, she said.

Some multinational companies have contacted her to be their advisers for relocating their production bases to Thailand to deflect the impact of the US-China trade dispute.

She also expanded her business scope to include manufacturers with a plant in Thailand to produce face masks and cream with improved control quality.

Mrs Kanokwan said Thailand is a popular tourist destination with Hong Kongers, whose purchasing power is higher than Chinese, and they always bring back Thai products.

Around 300,000 Thais live in Hong Kong, more than Koreans and Japanese residents.

Hong Kongers consider Thai products to have high quality and Thai rice is popular, though many believe Thai rice quality has deteriorated as some traders have mixed in Vietnamese grains, she said.

Packaging and marketing are draw- backs for Thai products, but production quality is relatively high, said Mrs Kanokwan.

Some 430 Thai community enterprises supply their products to Abouthai, which has an office in Bangkok where it enterprises can present their products to the company.

Mr Taveephol, vice-president and a shareholder of Atlaspace, an office building management firm, is another Thai whose company manages US$1-billion office buildings.

Atlaspace is similar to Marriott or Starwood, providing management solutions and advice to office building owners.

The company manages 50 office buildings in Hong Kong.

Given the protests and uncertainties in Hong Kong, renting office space for 1-2 years seems to be a more attractive choice than owning offices, he said.

With efficient management, office buildings can be rented at high rates, said Mr Taveephol.

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