June 16, 2014 00:00
By Pichaya Changsorn
Gulliver International, Japan's largest used-car company, has a grand vision - to do what 7-Eleven did to conquer the Thai grocery market - of modernising the entire used-car business in this country.
In this bid, which represents Gulliver’s first renewed overseas expansion ambition since the global “Hamburger” crisis in 2008, the company has dispatched Katsushi Nomura, 33, a former secretary to a co-president of the Japanese parent firm, to head the Thai unit.
“I thought a top manager would have come by himself,” he said last week.
He was also surprised to learn about the assignment last year.
However, his work for co-president Takao Hatori was much more than a traditional secretary’s job. Besides closely following the work and thoughts of Hatori, whose family founded and still holds some stake in the public-listed company, the young secretary was assigned to implement a new showroom format for Gulliver called “Wow Town”.
After its founding in 1994, Gulliver expanded its showrooms to more than 400 locations all over Japan in four years. Named as one of the top-20 best employers in Japan, Gulliver bucks the trend in Japan with a plan to hire 700 workers there next year to serve its programme to nearly double retail outlets there from 430 to 800 by 2017.
Gulliver had attempted to expand to India, Russia, China and the United States, but decided to withdraw from all overseas markets except the US after being hit by the global financial crisis in 2008.
The firm chose Thailand as the first market to renew its overseas expansion partly because it could find a good partner,
V-Group, a unit of Thailand’s leading property and casualty insurance company Viriyah Group. They set up a joint venture, V-Gulliver, to penetrate the used-car market.
Gulliver is the only company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange that is run by co-presidents. Both in their early 40s, Yusuke and Takao jointly manage the firm, which has a young pool of workers.
Due to some obstacles such as those involved in building permits, Gulliver took nearly a year to open its first showroom on Srinakarin Road in March.
Despite a slow start, Nomura said he was confident Gulliver would meet its target to expand its showrooms to 100 next year. It plans to have a total of 10 showrooms in Bangkok and other provinces such as Nakhon Sawan, Surat Thani and Chiang Mai this year.
Gulliver aims to “modernise” the used-car market by drawing on its over 20 years of experience in Japan and its cutting-edge tools, especially its advanced pricing system based on real-time auction data, known as PSA.
Observers said Gulliver views the Thai used-car market, currently run by thousands of small “tent dealers”, as similar to the Japanese market some 20 years ago.
Puttiphand Thamvichai, assistant managing director of V-Group and a member of the board of V-Gulliver, said the PSA system would ensure “fair” prices for sellers while still allowing profitability for its franchisees.
“Unlike ‘tent dealers’ who often set a price based on how ‘easy’ the particular customer who walks into their tents looks like to bargain with, our PSA system ensures transparency and reliability of the pricing calculation because the persons who determine and approve the prices of cars will not see the face and identity of the car seller, but will make their decisions based on market trends and the database,” he said.
Besides V-Group, two Japanese firms – EPM and Novil – that are Gulliver’s franchisees in Japan were also chosen to be its franchisees here.
It plans to introduce a franchise scheme to general Thai investors next month. Among the targets are existing new car dealers and entrepreneurs who can invest a minimum of Bt25 million.
Gulliver plans to expand to Indonesia next year, he added.