Published on December 19, 2007
Every once in a while, you come across the story of a person who has made it big, from scratch, and it gives special meaning to the saying: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
This is one such story, about a woman who nurtured a company over 12 years to convert an investment of just Bt1 million into a business that now generates Bt350 million in annual sales revenue.
Channapa Saisamorn, managing director of Lamina Films, just may be the reason your car remains cool in the direct sun.
"There were obstacles all along the way, right from the beginning," she says. "When I started off in 1995, there was only myself and a staff of eight. The focus was to keep my fixed costs as low as possible. Although, officially, I was the managing director, I did everything from sales, accounting and even delivering the products to my clients."
The major player back in 1995 was US-based 3M Films, and the rest of the market consisted of small players.
Lamina was the first local company to become both an importer and a distributor of window film in Thailand, giving it a cost advantage. Its products are made by CP Films in the US state of Virginia. They are now sold throughout Thailand by more than 400 dealers. Fifty of these are Lamina Films' Exclusive Shops, which sell only the company's products. In the future, Channapa hopes to have more such shops.
"When I started my business in 1995, one of the main problems was a lack of technical expertise in Thailand. The usual technique of learning how to put film on glass was for an apprentice to work with an expert for a while until he was experienced enough to do it himself. The first thing we did was get a CD from the US that clearly explained how to apply film, and then we got experienced people to teach us how to do it. Now, more than 12 years later, we have a training centre in Thailand, and an expert from the US also comes here to teach us how to do it correctly," Channapa says.
As well as focusing on technical knowledge, the company did its fair share of marketing. Lamina Films now has an 80-per-cent share of the premium-film segment of the Thai market. But premium film represents only 30 per cent of the total market, and Lamina holds a 25-per-cent share of the overall window-film market.
Lamina's products now include both automobile film and window film for buildings, although 90 per cent of its revenue still comes from automobiles.
Recently, the company also launched another product known as Llumar, a safety film designed to prevent shards of glass from injuring the occupants of vehicles in accidents. Many embassies and international schools in Bangkok have had Llumar installed in their vehicles.
One of Lamina Film's biggest achievements was a contract to install film on all of the windows in the 58-storey Empire Tower on Sathorn Road.
"My dream was to have a company that was stable and able to provide employment to many people who would otherwise never have an opportunity. Of the 57 staff we currently employ, many are housewives, and many are not very well educated. But they perform very well if given a chance to show off their talents," Channapa says.
She says she established many clear ground rules when building up the company. Honesty and the importance of individuals were among the main ones.
"If you want to be dishonest, there are plenty of ways to do it, from evading taxes to buying cheaper products locally and using the Lamina brand name. But this does not help in the long term," she says.
Most of the difficulty in the early years came from a lack of cash flow and the unwillingness of the US supplier to trust Lamina's credit. Dealers were also unwilling to take up the product. Channapa recalls that when she presented the product to dealers and told them it came with a seven year warranty, many told her they did not believe her company would last that long.
"If I were to summarise all of the years of hard work in a few words, it would have to be 'determination and support from my loved ones'. There were times when people who were in the business with me gave me the deeds to their houses so I could request loans from the bank.
"I'm not much of a drinker, but I must admit I like the slogan for Johnnie Walker: 'Keep walking'," Channapa says. "In life, you'll always keep coming upon obstacles. It's only a matter of which one you strike and when. So the secret, when you fall, is to get up and go again."