Jae Leng an icon on the move

Jae Leng an icon on the move

Next step is complex near Suvarnabhumi. By Pitsinee Jitpleecheep

Areeyachat Apisitamornkul, aka Jae Leng, started her cosmetics and fashion empire in a small shophouse more than 30 years ago. Pornprom Satrabhaya
Areeyachat Apisitamornkul, aka Jae Leng, started her cosmetics and fashion empire in a small shophouse more than 30 years ago. Pornprom Satrabhaya

Whom would Thais nameas the most well-knownBangkokian?

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would certainly be one. If you're a soap fan, you might pick actor Mario Maurer.

But if you are keen on shopping, the person who will spring to mind is definitely Areeyachat Apisitamornkul, also known as Jae Leng.

She is the owner of Jae Leng Plaza, where Thais from all walks of life like to shop.

From her humble beginnings after migrating here from China with her parents, Mrs Areeyachat has built a business empire selling imported cosmetics and brand-name bags, shoes, perfume and clothing for more than 30 years.

Starting from a small shophouse, her wares proved popular among air crews, college students and high-income women in Bangkok. Once the shop became widely known among a broader group of customers, she moved to the current location on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, near Don Mueang airport.

Mrs Areeyachat, 69, has no intention of slowing down just yet. Quite the contrary, she is writing a new chapter of her life by entering the property and hospitality business. She owns hundreds of rai of land across the country.

The entrepreneur plans to build a new Jae Leng complex worth more than 1 billion baht on a 14.5-rai plot in Lat Krabang district, not far from Suvarnabhumi airport.

The commercial project was postponed for a few years over zoning issues, but it is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

An indication of her business acumen, Mrs Areeyachat found a developer who had agreed to rent her land and develop the project instead of her putting up 100% of the investment.

It is far safer for her to be only a landlord, she says. Besides, she can still open her shop in the complex as a commercial space tenant.

"I want this new one-storey building to be similar to the Aeon shopping complexes located nearby most Japanese airports, where many foreign tourists must visit before leaving Japan," Mrs Areeyachat says.

The Lat Krabang complex will have total space of 10,000 square metres, about four times bigger than the current Jae Leng Plaza.

"Here, customers will have a new shopping experience with never-seen-before products," she says. "I will use unconventional schemes to attract consumers."

Mrs Areeyachat recalls how she tested every product in her old shop to thoroughly understand the quality of what she sold.

Then she came up with the strategy that has now become her trademark: storytelling instead of piped music being played in the shop.

"I thought, why don't I promote the products through storytelling on the microphone while customers are shopping instead of playing boring instrumental music like other department stores," she says. "I guarantee that you will not go back empty-handed after visiting my shop."

Though her company is successful, Mrs Areeyachat says doing business today is difficult because the environment has changed. New obstacles have arisen, such as convenient online channels with their variety of products.

"In addition, it is more difficult than in the past to import products to sell at our shop because suppliers want me to sell products not only at our shop but at other retailers," she says.

Mrs Areeyachat also mentions Japan's recently changed policy to let Thais visit Japan visa-free. As a result, Japanese products available at Jae Leng Plaza are less interesting to customers.

To cope with the change, Jae Leng Plaza has shifted focus to products imported from Europe. The share of Japanese products at Jae Leng Plaza is down to 10%, compared with 60% in the past.

"We now offer more than 1,000 products from over 20 countries in Europe," Mrs Areeyachat says.

"You can find all the must-have products for Thai customers who visit tourist destinations in France, Italy, England, Monaco, Spain and Croatia. If you cannot find them anywhere else in Thailand, you can come here and they are very affordable."

For example, Bioderma cleansing water from France costs 350 baht for a 500 millilitre bottle at Jae Leng. At other retail chains in Thailand, the bottle could sell for 600-1,000 baht.

Mrs Areeyachat says she likes to offer products that can serve people from head to toe, at affordable prices that encourage repurchases.

Apart from the changing product mix at the shop, her method of sourcing products has been adjusted. She now buys package tours to travel overseas on her own instead of joining tour groups with famous politicians or cabinet ministers.

The strategy was applied after her third daughter graduated abroad and joined the management team, taking care of export business over the past few years.

Apart from travelling the world by herself and with her daughter, Mrs Areeyachat will source products by reading various books and magazines or getting suggestions from customers.

Despite all the changes, one thing remains the same: she tests all products herself to minimise risk for customers.

"If I'm satisfied with the testing result, I will allow them to sell at our shop no matter if the products are popular or not," Mrs Areeyachat says. "But usually most of them become popular after being offered at our shop. Many of the products we sell are now bought by merchants to resell on many websites."

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