The entrepreneurial business life of Phumiphan ‘Oud’ Bunjapamai, Chairman at TKI, Thailand’s leading retailer of Patek Philippe luxury watches, began when he was very young; a Grade 4 student to be exact. In 1946, his father set up his own jewellery shop called Tok Kwang in Bangkok’s Chinatown and several decades later the family-run company began specializing in luxury timepieces and became TKI (Tok Kwang International). Even today, third and fourth-generation customers still bring their treasured timepieces to TKI for service as well as introducing their great-grand-children to TKI and its bespoke service.
“I grew up in a family business and had my first taste of selling jewellery while I was still in Grade 4. I recall running around servicing and taking care of our customers, many of which were foreigners. My father was a real entrepreneur, he saw an opportunity and with very little capital he was able to open his own store. As soon as I had finished my school homework assignments, I would go down to the shop and help my father. It wasn’t unusual for my father’s shop to be open after midnight. You see, my whole life has been about servicing our clients and doing business.”
As a youngster, Khun Phumiphan wanted to become a professional businessman and he went to the far corners of the planet to fulfill his dream. From Europe to the United States, he studied and worked in multi-national companies learning how large originations functioned. As the youngest son of a Chinese father, he had the luxury of knowing that he wasn’t the first choice to take over the family business; that duty would fall to his eldest brother.
“It was while I was working for AIA that I began seriously thinking about running my own business. A few years later, I went to New York to take up a well-paid position with Macmillan Publishing and it was here that I began my love affair with watches. Then one day, I had a call from my brother asking if I would come back to Thailand. In my heart, I always knew the family came first and that one day I might be asked to help out in the business. Although I was doing well and earning a high salary, my brother convinced me to return,” the normally interview-shy Khun Oud says.
“I really wanted to help my family business so I created a Human Resources role for myself and set about structuring the company, creating an organization chart, and a number of other projects. As a collector of timepieces I’d often go to antique stores and markets in Europe and America and buy pieces that caught my eye, it wasn’t long before I knew our company needed to expand its horizons and begin selling watches.
“It was my brother that rose to the challenge and secured Chopard as our first brand. We discussed what other brands we should carry and Patek Philippe was the brand both of us agreed upon. Our shop was located at Narai Hotel on Silom Road and we soon opened another at the former Four Seasons Hotel where we sold Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin as well as Blancpain watches. At one stage, we had 33 brands under our care,” he recounts.
Since the day his father first opened his jewellery store, Khun Oud has been taking care of his customers and he lives by his philosophy of servicing everybody for as long as it takes. In fact, he now sees great-grandparents bringing in their cherished timepieces for service and at the same time introducing their younger family members to TKI.
“I firmly believe that it is our philosophy that really sets us apart from our competitors. Today, our major challenge is not selling watches, it is securing enough of them to satisfy the insatiable demand of our customer base of over 10,000 clients. We’ve adapted to the times and now use social media to keep our clients informed. Of course, on the corporate side, we follow the lead from Patek Philippe in Geneva, but our personal accounts on Facebook and Line are fantastic ways to communicate with our clients,” he adds.
“In fact, from my Student Alumni alone I normally get requests straightaway when a new Patek Philippe model is released. The problem is though we can only supply around 500 watches per year and we have thousands of customers. Once we secure a watch for a client, we invite them in and walk through the new model and its features. We’ve built our reputation on face-to-face client relations. You can’t sell products like this through a catalogue. It is our job as a Patek Philippe Boutique to make the dreams of our clients come true.”