Seeing a market niche and devising a fresh idea to address it inevitably sets hurdles for a new business to establish itself, which is compounded by the time taken to build the trust of customers. Somchai Sittichaisrichart encountered this in 1992 when he founded SiS Distribution in Thailand with investors.
It was, he says, a classic chicken and egg conundrum. “When we first started the company, we had to prove that a distributor business model was workable because it was a new concept then and we didn’t have scale at that time,” he recalls.
“One of the first questions customers asked was how many products we had. I remember in the first year we only had about 20 customers, so they weren’t very keen to work with us. We had this chicken and egg problem: we didn’t have a lot of products because we didn’t have a lot of customers, but we didn’t have a lot of customers because we didn’t have a lot of products.”
SiS Distribution is a wholesale distribution company of IT and electronic products in Thailand and is the upshot of Somchai’s lifelong love of technology. His success in business is the culmination of that love of technology and a more pragmatic acknowledgement that business studies would provide a solid foundation for a rewarding career.
“I studied electrical engineering because I have loved technology since I was very young,” he says. “After graduation, I worked in engineering for about 10 years. During that period I found that I also needed to learn about the business side of technology. Then an investor wanted to start a technology company and find people to run it. I joined with them in 1992, so my whole career is because of what I love.
It’s our objective to find technologies we can bring in to help our customers and to help the country.
“Both vendors and retailers need someone to solve their issues. That is where our value lies. We give retailers the right products and provide credit. Vendors have problems because of the language barrier in Thailand, and they need someone who can communicate for them.”
SiS Distribution’s reputation as a leading provider of cutting-edge technology can, for the most part, be attributed to Somchai’s love of new technology and a penchant for client service.
His proclivity for innovation has paid dividends amid the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic; while very challenging, the pandemic has actually enabled the company to build a new suite of services for customers and chart a new course for the company’s future development. “Retail is currently very challenging,” Somchai points out.
“During the lockdown period, people have become used to online shopping, which was pretty limited in Thailand but, after this, it will grow because people have no choice. So we have set up a big team to help our offline retailers go online.”
SiS has invested in a system that enables offline retailers to go online and sell products held for them in the SiS warehouse. SiS provides product information to be published online and when sold directly to consumers, SiS packs the products and delivers them on behalf of the retailers.
“We set this up as an extra service to help both our online customers and offline customers who want to sell online,” Somchai says. “This is still new, which means we have to use many people but, in the future, we will automate the whole system. This is one area that we want to invest in to help our retailers.”
This agility also helps SiS’s vendors in distributing technologies that help customers work more safely, such as automatic temperature readers that can detect fevers. “It’s our objective to find technologies we can bring in to help our customers and to help the country,” Somchai says.
“We’re always looking for the latest technologies. I love to spend time on this, and find other people who love it too. When we find like-minded people, we try to recruit them and let them do what they love. These people also help to bring in new technologies.”
His advice to young people starting out in their career is clear: do what you love and love what you do. “I use myself as an example. You can turn most things you love to do into a career,” Somchai says.
“I am able to do what I love. Right now, I can talk to any technology company and bring in their products for testing and work with them. This is what I love and now I don’t have to pay for it!”
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