I was an engineering major in college, though I never actually liked it. I was pretty bright, always getting good grades, but I didn’t feel like seeing it through. In junior year I switched to management. One semester later I decided I didn’t want to be a student; I’d rather be a merchant. I was confident that by the time my friends graduated, I’d already be rich.
I visited a friend in Hat Yai during summer vacation. There, they had this huge market that sold old goods donated from America. Having bought the return ticket beforehand, I spent all my money to buy as much secondhand clothes as I could, to sell them in my home town of Ayutthaya. They sold like hotcakes.
I started looking for places where I could stock up on cheap clothes to sell during school breaks. Soon, I became known in my community as the secondhand clothes guy, as I was the only person selling them.
Manoch Puttal has always been a huge inspiration for me. Looking back, his 80s TV show Bunterng Kadee [entertainment documentary] is the reason I am who I am today. The show focused a lot on Western culture and music, which was a relatively new thing in Thailand at the time. With it came the trend of wearing tattered, secondhand clothes, which inspired me to start selling them. Even today I rarely buy new clothes.
I bought my first car with my own money when I was 18 years old. It was an old Volkswagen Beetle that set me back about B40,000. It was pretty beat-up, though. It broke down often enough for me to learn how to fix it myself.
My transition to antique dealer began 20 years ago when I was working as a props-man for production sets. Walking around Klong Thom market, I discovered that there was a demand for the kind of antiques I already had a large collection of. My career had hit a dead-end, so I decided I’d rather be selling things again.
I later became a dealer of vintage cars. I was good at hunting and locking down deals. Once, I found a 1966 Impala Convertible in Udon Thani. I tracked down the owner and bought the car within one day. I’d hunt these cars and sell them for huge profits. Whenever I was about to run out of money, I’d find another car to sell.
I set up an antiques store back in Bangkok with the help of my sister and her husband, who gave me the start-up cash. It was a major turning point in my life. I sold my beloved Volkswagen for a Hilux Vigo truck to carry my wares. I would open my shop ahead of the others, and I’d stay long after they all closed. I decorated my shop differently, too, and as a result, I had a lot of returning customers.
My favorite antiques are generally over a hundred years old. People tend to confuse antiques with retro items, even though they are two very different things. I like antiques from the Victorian era and the Baltic region. Very, very old items also tend to have a certain texture, which adds a sense of history to them.
When I write my own biography I plan to call it Textures of my Life. I prefer to have a bit of roughness and texture to my life. Anything too neat and ordered is just boring.
The most stressful moment in my life was when the original Rod Fai Market at Chatuchak was suddenly forced to relocate. I thought about all the merchants at my market, some of whom had just put down payments on cars and houses. I couldn’t abandon them. Personally, I’d put enough money away to retire, but I decided it wasn’t time.
Opportunity is the most valuable thing you can give to someone. If my sister and brother-in-law had never helped me start my business, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I want to give others this opportunity.
I identify as a merchant as opposed to a businessman. Businessmen are mostly concerned with milking every last drop of profit from their products. There’s no room for compromise or charity. Merchants tend to be more flexible. They can be haggled with, or they can even be charitable and sell things at a loss, as long as it makes them happy.
Business owners need to find a balance between profits and goodwill. It’s better for your business if the people paying you are happy to do so. While other markets tend to charge B400-B500 for a single night’s stall rental, I only charge B200. I still get my profits, and the merchants get an affordable location to peddle their wares. It’s win-win.
Honesty can’t be bought. Words can make or break you. Keep your word and you’ll be rewarded.