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The economy of luxury

Kriengsak Tantiphipop reveals his secret recipe for success in the high-end shopping market with the Emporium

In 1997, as finance firms closed down and bankers wept bitter tears, high-end department store the Emporium opened its doors to the public.

Today, with all sectors campaigning for the sufficiency economy, the store is celebrating its birthday with an extravagant campaign dubbed "Ooh la la la 10th Anniversaire".

Kriengsak Tantiphipop, senior managing director of the fabulous complex, makes no apologies. He's proud of the accomplishments of the last decade.

"Nothing comes easy," he says.

When work on the Emporium project was started four years earlier in 1993, the Thai economy was booming. Just seven days after the complex opened, the baht was being floated on the foreign currency market. Yet he was always confident that the Emporium would be a success.

He points to four factors: location, taste, transportation and prospective customers.

Sukhumvit Road is a prime location and will remain so in the future. It is a residential area with high-income dwellers and expats, who have good taste. Plus, it's easy to get to, especially with the Skytrain.

"Single houses in this area will be pulled down to make way for apartments, and the Skytrain will be extended," says the 49-year-old.

In addition, there are no big shopping malls nearby and the mix of products and tenants in the complex is a prefect recipe for success.

Kriengsak remembers the day he knocked the doors of classic brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Chanel, Hermes and Cartier.

"We went to their Paris offices and said, 'Look, this is the best project in Thailand for you to invest in'.

"It wasn't easy, but each time we negotiated we were confident that we could guarantee their success, not just our own. If you are going to talk to somebody about how you want to be successful, you may as well not bother.

"They won't talk to you. You have to convince them how they be will successful as a result of your project."

Kriengsak's proudest moment was when Chanel agreed to join him.

"We made contact through its cosmetic line first, then we asked to see the president. At that time, Chanel didn't have any stores in Southeast Asia and knew little about Thailand. I remember the day vividly. It was a regional meeting attended by the president, the vice-president and three board members. I was on my own but well equipped with loads of information. I dressed stylishly. I wore Prada," he laughs.

"After a two-hour presentation, they applauded. And by the end of the day, the president had agreed to invest in its first flagship store at the Emporium. I was so happy because Chanel is such a fashion icon. The Emporium was going to be a world class department store," he says.

Kriengsak operates on a "win-win-win" strategy, with the first "win" representing the shareholder, the second, the tenants and suppliers, and the third, consumers.

"I have hope and belief all the time, but that hope and belief is based on the same foundation as when I play chess - if I leave an open square for the opponent, I know he will definitely move in. This is my strategy.

"I believe that if we have a successful project, tenants will come. No one wants to be unsuccessful. After 10 years, we still have a waiting list; the Emporium brand and its position on the market have never dropped," he adds.

He also sees a move away from block advertising to one-on-one marketing.

"Everybody wants something special; they want to be distinctive and to be individual. We need to be sensitive to that."

Kriengsak sees no real conflict between the sufficiency economy and the luxury market, explaining that everyone is capable of being self-sufficient.

"Whether it's for macro or microeconomics, it's always good to remind ourselves not to go overboard. We can apply the sufficiency economy not only to household spending but also to investments.

"In the modern world, sufficiency is based on different limitations. To me, the sufficiency economy is about not overdoing things. The Mall Group practises [the sufficiency economy] by not investing or expanding rapidly.

"When I work on projects, I approach them one-by-one, with the confidence that each will be successful. So that's being sufficient. I do what I can but I don't think that 'sufficiency' is about not doing anything.

"If people don't invest, money will go to the bank. If the private sector doesn't loan money, then it stays in the bank. So the economy becomes stagnant - there's no flow of cash. In the past, when the economy was booming, investing Bt100 allowed Bt800 to flow into the market.

"Nowadays, when we receive money, we save it in the bank at almost zero per cent interest."

Kriengsak feels that integrated partnership will be the key to a sufficient economy.

"It lies in riding the wave, meaning that we use all the strength we have at its highest potential. Tenants must work at full steam. Consumers must spend wisely and there must be a strategic alliance, which includes media alliance.

"We must all work together on common interests to achieve our goal."

Kupluthai Pungkanon

The Nation

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