Familiar faces in Chiang Mai, partners Pakin and Toby are the founders and CEO of the iconic Oasis Spas…latest count, nine branches around Thailand. The first branch of Oasis Spa opened nine years ago on Sirimangkalajarn Road and the rest seemed to effortlessly follow.
After 10 years as a medical rep for a pharmaceutical company, and bearing witness to much sickness, Pakin realised that it was best to focus on healthy living rather than on fixing the problem once manifested, hence the idea for a spa. Serendipitously Oasis Spa opened at the exact right time, as the world trend towards healthy living became big business. The government agreed with Pakin and Toby, and was already setting up incentives and programmes to support this type of business. The government’s insistence on quality control also meant that Oasis Spa had to push itself early to achieve high standards, standards which they have consistently maintained.
With so many businesses spread far and wide, the quality of staff as well as use of technology was crucial and the duo invested heavily in staff training as well as internal systems. “We have over thirty servers for our businesses, a phone centre, accounting, booking systems, etc.” said Toby. “Once we utilised modern technology and set up systems, it allowed our spa staff to focus totally on customer service. They know each client’s preferences, allergies and spa history. This personal touch is what brings our clients back to us time and again.”
Team work was seen as very important and employees were encouraged to express their ideas freely. With staff who felt trusted and empowered, Pakin and Toby found that the business grew rapidly. “We don’t condemn our staff for making mistakes because to do so would make them afraid to make decisions, we teach them to be flexible, to learn how to resolve conflict and to maintain a high standard,” added Toby. Pakin said that his motto for doing business is what goes around comes around. If we do things with good intention finally the good thing will comes back to us. “Basically you have to jump in with both feet,” added Toby. “Be in the business 100%, do everything, learn everything, being in business part time doesn’t work.” Apart from Oasis Spa, the duo also sell their spa operational systems, have opened a school to train their employees, recently launched a product line – Kin – and run an events organising business.
Open Daily 10a.m. – 10p.m.
102 Sirimangkalajarn Road
053 920 111
Who says business isn’t sexy? Well it is when your business is all about corsets, dresses, catsuits, hoods, gloves and boots made from latex, leatherette and PVC. Marijke Schreurs has the distinction of being the proud owner of the only online fetish fashion store based in Thailand. Marijke says that this is such a niche market she can barely name any competitors. Tall, slim and blonde, we were not surprised to hear how Dutch Marijke had done a lot of modelling and acting in her younger years, which led to her interest in fashion.
Marijke’s journey from the Netherlands to Thailand began 18 years ago, when she moved to work in the hospitality industry. After six years working in hotels, Marijke decided to set up on her own. She juggled with different business ideas until she decided that with the gap in the market for latex, leatherette and PVC outfits, her passion for fashion would come in handy. From having past experience in the entertainment and movie industry she felt there was a lack of clothing which was a bit extravagant, different, kinky and sexy in Thailand. Perhaps in the past conservative and prudish attitudes towards anything blatantly provocative had curbed the market for fetish fashion, but Marijke observed the progressive and liberal nature of contemporary Thai fashion and became adamant that there was a niche market for these kinds of products.
Six years ago Marijke opened an online store focused on selling to the Southeast Asia region. Planet Latex is now run from Chiang Mai. Over the last six years the business has grown on-line as well as off-line through exposure via extensive marketing.
These types of kinky clothing are bought for going clubbing, for fancy dress parties, fashion shoots and for use in the broad entrainment industry and of course for those who have personal fetishes. “Fetish themed clothing doesn’t mean you have to dress trashy, there is a classy way to do everything!” highlights Marijke.
Planet Latex creations range from dresses to bodies, corsets, trousers, catsuits, bras, footwear and accessories and much more for both women and men. Marijke designs some pieces herself, and tries to keep up with fashion trends. “We offer the opportunity for customers to visit our showroom, see our collection, try the garments on and buy. People are always surprised to see how flattering latex can be.” Planet Latex fetish fashion/party wear has been used to dress up models, actors and presenters and has been featured in many magazines, on television and at fashion fairs. This extensive publicity had increased the company’s brand awareness locally and abroad.
Each month she sells anything between ten and 100 pieces, depending on wholesale deals, seasonal and special promotions etc. “Considering the fact that Europe, America, Canada and Australia are setting the trend in fetish fashion design/party wear, it will be only a matter of time before Asia will become a successful follower,” adds Marijke.
Planet Latex has recently launched a community channel online to be able to let those who are interested in fetish fashion/party wear to get connected. Planet Latex hopes to become the biggest player in the Asian market.
Marijke emphasises the importance of social media for promoting business, she also says it is crucial not to limit your market, in her case, she exports all over the world, which increases sales opportunities with such a niche product.
Chiang Mai people have not always been salad eaters and in the past salads were an insignificant garnish splashed with Thousand Island dressing plonked on a side of a plate of pork chop. All that changed when a pair of sisters decided to open a small salad restaurant called Salad Concept. Salad Concept has now established itself as the trend setter in Chiang Mai’s bourgeoning salad scene. Nitchaya Tuwanon (Poy), 31, and Panida Tuwanon (Pay), 29, both local girls, are not your typical stuffy business people. Both young and fresh-faced, Poy and Pay tell us how they were fortunate enough to acquire the ex DVD shop premises on Nimmanheamin Road owned by their father, which they refurbished into the hip and heaving salad joint today.
Poy, the elder sister, graduated in economics from France. After a few stressful years working in finance, and marketing and advertising in Bangkok, she decided to move back to Chiang Mai to pursue a simpler life. Her younger sister Pay was a law student at Chiang Mai University.
The sisters wanted to open a business, and it was their mum who suggested they focus on salad. Eating fresh vegetables was also a family concern. Their mother used to prepare healthy meals and an organic diet for their father who had at the time just recovered, and later was totally cured, from final stage colon cancer. Healthy living was an integral part of their family life.
“When we first opened we didn’t have much of a system, we just kept the money in a tin,” says Poy. “The first day we opened we thought we might get around one customer per hour, but a lot of people came in and we couldn’t handle the situation. We hadn’t hired any staff, so we had to close the shop for the next five days. We then frantically put signs up everywhere to hire waitresses and a dishwasher, our learning process was fast.”
The two sisters worked solely on the business and soon their restaurant became so popular that it had to expand. Though they don’t yet have any plans to open a franchise, as it is a family run business, they are often helping up and coming entrepreneurs with research as well as creating original concepts for new businesses. They believe in doing one thing and doing it well. Pay advises, “Don’t just follow what’s in trend, try to create a serious and sustainable business.”
Open Daily 11a.m. – 10p.m. / Closed every 2nd
Wednesday of each month
49/9-4 Nimmanhaemin Road, beside soi 13
053 894 455
Surrounded by knick-knacks and a wall of family portraits, Chadcharn Eakchaipatanakul welcomes us into his office, treats us to some mouthwatering char manao and tells Citylife of how his early life began as an impoverished child in Chiang Mai and developed into having his own successful business selling northern Thai food stuffs and souvenirs. Chadcharn reclines on his chair and recalls the past with a smile; the very place where his vast store currently stands used to be a field where his parents, both born in China, grew vegetables and specialised in making pickled cabbages, garlic, and peaches. Chadcharn’s father passed away when he was 11. After finishing school at a government primary at the age of 14 he worked full time as a samlor driver in Chiang Mai, an occupation he had begun at 13. He would wake up at five o’clock every morning to deliver goods to Warorot Market. He later moved to Bangkok for ten years selling car parts. In Bangkok he attended a short one month business course.
Living in the capital and experiencing the fast-paced competitive nature of Bangkok, in contrast to the easy-going culture of Chiang Mai, Chadcharn’s way of thinking changed. In 1980, he returned to Chiang Mai with an internal ‘essence’ of Bangkok. He took charge over his family’s tiny business, making improvements here and there based on the experience he’d gained from Bangkok.
The business continued to flourish, eventually employing over 100 staff. Today Vanusnun is a large outlet store and factory producing and selling fresh and dried foods, such as local vegetables, Thai mountain coffee, and Chiang Mai sausage. The main customer base is from coach tours looking to take some Chiang Mai goodies back home. His greatest claim to fame is in the invention of ‘Biotech Naem’ (fermented pork), which is hygienic and parasite-free allowing Thai people to eat the meat worry-free for the first time. Using the same theory that if bottles and plastic bags expand and break at freezing point, the same rule applies with tapeworm eggs, eliminating the number one reason why Thais fear eating Naem.
Chadcharn says innovation is essential for good business. ‘Kaep Moo Pop’ is his latest invention Citylife got a sneak peek at, which will soon hit the shelves – yes remember where you heard it first! The famous Chiang Mai delicacy kaep moo is packed and cooked in the same way as microwave popcorn.
In true entrepreneurial spirit Chadcharn has his fingers in more than one pie, his most recent business venture is V Community Mall near Payap University. He also has two factories in Chiang Mai – one that manufactures pickled goods, and another that manufactures naem and meat products. Vanusnun has recently begun to export to Australia.
Chadcharn expressed his concern for the younger generation and hopes the youth of today become more interested in how things work and how food they consume is made, rather than just being end users.
Open Daily 7a.m. – 8.p.m.
398 Chiang Mai – Lampang Rd. Fah-Ham
053 240 829, 053 243 010
We met Ongart in the lobby of Le Meridien Hotel, before he was about to attend an event hosted by Canadian dignitaries. Suited and booted, Ongart sat confidently as a group of female photographers swarmed around him. Ongart is the chairman of The Federation of Thai Industries and owner of Sun Sweet, a tinned sweet corn producer and exporter with a turnover of 1200 million baht per year. He talked of his humble beginnings; originally from Phitsanulok, at the age of four Ongart’s father died and his mother was left to raise him and his four young siblings single handedly. His mother worked as a maid and seamstress though only made enough money to get by. From a young age Ongart was ambitious to improve his life and dreamed of owning his own business. He says it was hard work and, importantly, a positive attitude which got him where he is today.
Ongart is not your typical privileged business man, he finished high school and rather than going to university went straight into work. His first job was working in Chiang Mai as a middleman, buying and selling fruits and vegetables from farmers to sell to food production factories. After working for someone else for many years he wanted to start his own factory, and eventually saved enough to do so. He began by renting a factory for producing processed fruit. He then expanded to a new product; canned sweet corn, which, unlike fruit, could be produced year round, therefore his business had a high productivity rate and now processes 300-500 tons of corn every day.
At the beginning of his corn career, Ongart attended an expo exhibition in Bangkok where he met many foreign customers, to whom he would export his products.
Ongart’s factory now exports to 150 customers in 50 countries. He employs over 700 workers.
Ongart is an out and out optimist, when posed with the question ‘What difficulties did you encounter during your business experience?’ he turned the question round saying that he has always enjoyed a good challenge. He says his story proves that academia is not always necessary for a successful business, and it was the hard work, experience and determination, not education certificates, that were the foundations of his achievements.
He is the current president of the Chiang Mai Federation of Thai Industries. He uses his business know-how to benefit the lives of other entrepreneurs and to support industrial business by consultation.
Ongart told us that although he would prefer to refrain from discussing politics, when talking about the development of the country, politics is key. He said a degenerating political situation holds Thailand’s economy back. He believes that some areas of the government are cursed with a culture which corrupts its members, holding the country back from progress. He continued to say that the at-times self-serving and unprogressive nature of the government deters useful individuals, who would otherwise enable constructive development, from joining the government.
Ongart finally highlighted the importance of agriculture in Thailand and that it should once again be held of high value, as due to global influences, population growth, environmental change, food and the production of food is going to play a much more pivotal role in societies. He predicts that in ten to 20 years, bread and the mobile phone might be pinned at the same price.