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From shy to shine

Marketing graduate heeds advice to "envision the future" and overcomes shyness to rise into a respected figure in retailing.
By Iela Karunungan |

In his own words, Jimmy Thai is a "shy, stay-away-from-the-limelight guy," but this has not dampened his entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, recognizing the strong business sense in him, his grandfather, Sia Tao, funded Thai\\\'s first venture with P50 in capital when he was still in the second grade-- selling stickers.


Thai further learned the basics of entrepreneurship when he was growing up. He helped out in the Thai family\\\'s hardware store on Ongpin Street in Manila\\\'s Chinatown, doing such tasks as warehousing, delivery, purchasing, selling, and even collection.


In 1979, after getting his Marketing degree from the De La Salle University, Thai joined the Ever-Gotesco Group as finance officer. He would stay with the company for the next nine years, learning much in the process. Its founder, Go Tong, whom he considers the second most influential person in his life, encouraged him to "envision the future."


In 1985, while he was still working for the Ever-Gotesco Group, Thai and four friends established the Primer Group. They traded assorted seasonal merchandise for the next four years until 1989, when their company acquired the exclusive distributorship of the Samsonite brand of luggage and travel accessories.



It was a huge break for the Primer Group, but it also came at a time when department stores were refusing to carry Samsonite because it was simply too expensive for the market then. Thus, to gain entry into the department stores, the Primer Group agreed to sell the products on concession terms, which means that the department stores would only pay for units actually sold. In addition, the Primer Group became one of the first vendors to execute the "shop-in-a-shop" concept, which means leasing exclusive space within a department store to give one\\\'s products a distinct display area.


By aggressively doing their business this way, Thai and his partners managed to grow their P500,000 startup capital into a broad and thriving business. Today, its luggage stores--namely Travel Club, Bratpack, and R.O.X. stores--are the foremost of the Primer Group\\\'s businesses. The stores number about 36 combined, all located in prime mall locations nationwide. In addition, the Travel Club now has a store in Kuala Lumpur, marking the first step in Primer Group\\\'s regional expansion.



The Travel Club bills itself as a traveler\\\'s "one-stop shop solutions provider." The five partners in Primer Group came up with this concept of the first multi-brand luggage and bags store in 1992. They were then on a trip abroad and got to experience the mobile demands of traveling, thus leading them to hatch the idea.


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