“I AIM to make OfficeMate an international brand and set up branches in the region,” Worawoot Ounjai, chief executive officer of COL and president of Thai Retailers Association, enthuses.
As a teenager, he loved reading books on politics and socialism by authors such as Sulak Sivaraksa, so the obvious choice was studying Political Science in Thammasat University.
“However, I couldn’t get into Thammasat because my entrance exam score was one point short. So I ended up studying Marketing in Kasetsart University, which was the turning point of my life,” Worawoot says.
His first step into the world of business was taken while he was in his second year in university. At that time, his father’s wholesale stationery products business was doing badly, so Worawoot thought he should apply the marketing tips he was being taught in university.
“Just as I was about to switch to Political Science, my father’s stationery business ran into serious financial problems. So, I decided to focus on marketing and apply that knowledge to help my family. The first thing I did was change the business model from middleman to direct seller. We began to start approaching offices and factories directly, which marked the beginning of OfficeMate,” Worawoot explains.
‘Foundation of good ideas’
This approach taught him a lot, he says, particularly in terms of marketing and communication. As an executive, he says, ideas are important, but knowledge in marketing is the foundation of good ideas.
“When I decided to change the business model, I also had to become a salesman. This was not for fun, but for survival. We did well because we had products that met customers’ demands,” he recounts.
His strategy for survival began with the yellow pages – he scoured the telephone book for names and numbers of potential customers, and then began knocking the doors of factories and offices to sell his stationery products.
“I had to sell things because I knew I had one objective – stopping my father’s business from going bankrupt. That was always on my mind,” Worawoot adds.
From his experience, he says, he learned that the secret to running a successful business is selling good quality products at affordable prices that are beneficial to buyers. This will create demand automatically, he claims.
“Following this formula, the business began recovering quickly. Our monthly revenue rose from Bt2 million to Bt10 million. In fact, some people suspected we were selling drugs,” Worawoot laughs.
After graduating from Kasetsart University, Worawoot wanted to learn more about succeeding in business, so he decided to do his Master’s in Business Administration at the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida).
While at Nida, he decided to go into catalogue sales and developed OfficeMate for his thesis – which he set up as a new company when he graduated in 1995.
“I have worked with others, not until we joined hands with Central Group and I became CEO of OfficeMate Group. My roots are in the family business, my parent’s shop had everything under one roof,” Worawoot explains.
His company began selling stationery products through catalogues from 1999, and became the first stationery seller to go online in Thailand.
He said initially his company tried to sell to larger organisations, such as Toyota and AIA, but when that failed, it shifted its focus to medium-sized organisations, industrial estates, offices and small businesses.
“We were successful when we began focusing on medium-sized organisations since we could offer good services that met customers’ demands. We learned that getting customers to follow our system was better, because following consumer trends will never make your business successful,” he explains.
OfficeMate began with just three pick-up trucks and six motorcycles to deliver products to customers, Worawoot says, adding that in those days they only used get about 100 orders per day. Now, OfficeMate – which has added office furniture to its list of products – gets more than 10,000 orders daily, and has over 280 pick-up trucks to make deliveries nationwide.
“Our strategy is to focus on medium and small offices. By providing good care, we get good customers who do not take their business anywhere else,” Worawoot says, adding that it took nearly five years for the online side of the business to take off.
Recipe for success
For a business to become successful, he says, three key ingredients are needed: good human resources, good procedures and a good IT system.
A successful firm requires a smart, empowered and modern workforce that is efficient and productive; a procedure that is dynamic enough to support a scale up in the business at any time, and an IT system that is accurate and supports both the workforce and the process.
“The actual secret of success though is the fear of bankruptcy. We did everything, from creating ideas to developing new business models for survival.
“I know that if I did not take the business seriously, I would not survive,” he says.
OfficeMate reached another turning point in 2013, when it was acquired and merged with Central Group. As a result, OfficeMate became Central Online (COL) and has now expanded to cover many products, ranging from office supplies and furniture to electronics. COL also owns B2S, which retails books and learning instruments, as well as lifestyle and entertainment media.
Two years before joining the Central Group, OfficeMate listed on the Market for Alternative Investment (MAI).
“We are a fast-growing business, which is why it gets very difficult to manage human resources. We have tried to provide a good and enjoyable environment for people to work in,” Worawoot adds.
In February last year, the company spread its wings overseas, by entering Ho Chi Minh City. Now its aim is to open outlets in all BigC stores in Vietnam in the next three years.
“I want to make OfficeMate an international brand and expand across the region. At this point, I will say I have had some success. If you start saying you are successful, you can become complacent and stop doing new things,” Worawoot advises.
“My philosophy is to have the right ideas and to work at full capacity. My aim is to have good people who are able to provide valuable service that is advantageous to society. I want retail shops to find their own strength and survive in this digital age.”