Businessman: Eddie Evans
By Maxmilian Wechsler
When Canadian-born Eddie Evans set up X-treme Sports Gear company in 2002, he didn’t envision how extremely successful the enterprise would be 14 years later. The company offices, factory and Eddie’s residence are all under one roof in an eight-storey building near Rama IX Road in Din Daeng district of Bangkok
“Personally, I feel positive with what I have accomplished in Thailand in building up this company from scratch and then watching it grow into a successful business. Having said that, I also feel that true success should also be measured by what you put back into your community.”
Before coming to Thailand, Eddie made his mark as an international rugby player from which he made his living. He was introduced to rugby while at his boarding school, Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. He was part of Canada’s national squad from 1986 to 1999, playing in three World Cups and also being a member of the team that beat Argentina, Wales, France and Scotland. He earned 50 caps for Canada and enjoys the record of having the most winning percentage of any Canadian who played for his country. Eddie was then able to take his skills overseas playing for 13 years.
“I played rugby in the United Kingdom for a couple of seasons and in New Zealand for one season. I then finished up in Japan for a long stint of ten seasons before retiring from professional rugby in 2001. I then moved to Bangkok that same year.”
He may have retired from the sport, but rugby still occupies a central place in his life. Describing himself as a “social rugby player” since coming to Thailand he’s coached youth teams and in 2006 started the Bangkok International Rugby Tens. (www.bangkokrugby10s.net).
“I have more fun with rugby than ever before. The Bangkok International Rugby Tens is now one of the biggest rugby tournaments in Asia. It’s the major event of the Thailand rugby calendar and features over 40 overseas teams,” Eddie said.
Filling a demand
“The decision to form X-treme Sports Gear arose from difficulties I and others were having sourcing reliable suppliers of team wear who could also deliver a quality product. This was just not possible locally or even regionally so I then figured there must be a market for this. To me it was simple: a quality product, well priced and with a focus on customer service. We also placed a high emphasis on customization, using great designs and products, to make it fun for the teams.
“I founded the company in 2002. I was renting a two-story townhouse in Bangkok where I had a small office downstairs with a couple of staff. I had suppliers lined up and enough customers to keep the business going. After a couple of years we started to get some momentum and orders increased. At that time I decided that I probably had a good business model but I needed more control. I didn’t want to rely on suppliers. So I made the decision to buy the building we’re in now, hire more staff and invest in manufacturing equipment. Instead of using the supply route we started doing things in-house, and now everything we sell is made in the factory here.
“We started by providing only rugby wear and gradually added apparel for other sports like volleyball, basketball, football, ice hockey, softball, cycling and golf. We are making, among other products, shorts, jerseys, all kinds of track suits, caps and polo shirts. We supply team wear to schools, universities, clubs and organizations all over the world. We also supply corporate items to companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Pepsi and Hooters.
“Locally our customers include many of the local schools, universities and club teams but typically the market in Thailand is small compared to our main focus which is the overseas market. About 95 percent of our business comes from North America, New Zealand, Europe and Australia, where exports have been pretty good.
“I have a few sales representatives selling our brand, but most of our business comes through the internet – it’s crazy how many people visit our website. People can come online and create their own uniforms now. We have something called the kit builder that allows customers to put in their colours, designs and logos. It’s quite interactive and fun for this generation. People want to be online and they like to shop online. In the last couple of years most of our business is now coming from the website.
“We have about 40 employees, five of them foreigners. My manager is a Thai guy I hired as a designer more than ten years ago and he worked himself up. He learned how to speak English and how to run the company, a real success story.
“As for our set up, we do all the printing on the ground floor and the sewing factory is on the third floor. Our main office is here on the second floor and this is also where all our great designs come from. Also with living in the building it makes it so much easier to oversee and maintain control. As mentioned in the past I relied on outside third parties and things weren’t being done properly or to our high standards. This set up suits me and my lifestyle perfectly.
“We are doing well. This business is like any other. When we first started off things were obviously tough and to add to the pressure we are also in a very competitive industry. There are so many big players who are established in what is a very competitive and saturated market. I had a lot of people questioning my path.
“The first two years were really a struggle but luckily we started to see some good results soon after and now momentum is with us. We go from strength to strength. We are at point now of perhaps having too much business, which can sometimes be a problem. We aren’t doing too much marketing anymore because we have already established a loyal client base.”
Nevertheless, Eddie disclosed that he does have plans to expand the business but just needs to maintain a good balance.
Doing business on the high road
“I believe that if you work in Thailand with Thai people you must be respectful and try to be part of the community. Hopefully you can also through example instill good values. As a business owner I like to focus on what has made us successful and that is the dedicated employees that work for me. It’s important to be a tough strong leader but you must also lead with integrity and treat people fairly.
“We have a policy at X-treme Sports Gear of having all employees on salary. I know that sounds odd but that even covers the factory workers and sewing staff that would typically be paid on a daily wage (this is normal in manufacturing). This approach is probably a lot different from some of my competitors, who may think they can’t afford to provide benefits for employees’ monthly salaries. For me, I choose to treat my employees as I treat everybody else, which is with fairness and respect. I think in the long run this philosophy pays off for the business and for me as an individual.”
Eddie’s hobbies include cooking, enjoying nice wines, keeping fit and playing music in his home studio. “I really like living and working in this building. I just get in the elevator and pop down to the office in the morning. Definitely no time lost in commuting, I feel very lucky!”
Eddie is also co-founder of the local Slum Kids Rugby Academy known in Thai as Nak Suu [Noble Warrior] Tigers (www.naksuurugby.org). The motto of the foundation is Changing Lives Forever. “We bring in children from the poorest parts of Bangkok and introduce them to rugby. We also counsel the children and try to provide them with basic life skills and mentoring. We feel that rugby can help prepare them to lead productive lives by instilling fundamental qualities like discipline, teamwork and leadership.
“Our goal for the future is to provide these children with a proper rugby club house and training facility to help them develop their skills to the highest level. We also want to offer vocational training to help them escape the cycle of extreme poverty they are living in.
“To fund our basic program we are able to use the proceeds for the Bangkok Rugby Tens (Feb 27-28 at Bangkok Patana school). Basically, we have 1,600 to 1,700 players from all over the world coming here to play rugby. It is a massive tournament with huge international exposure. An estimated 50 million people around the world will watch it on television. All the money raised will go to Nak Suu Tigers. Please come out and support this great event and enjoy the rugby, food, drink, kids’ zone, and live entertainment.”
Thailand as home
“With living and doing business in Thailand people always ask me about the difficulties I encounter, and how I deal with all these differences and challenges, “said Eddie. “Simply put, this is true of any place in the world. There is no perfect location, everywhere has its own unique set of rules and challenges but it’s how you deal with those and what you make of it. I am committed to Thailand and I enjoy my life here.
“Nevertheless,” he lamented, “the cost of living in Thailand is rising. Prices have risen so dramatically over the past decade and as a business owner you always need to be concerned with this. So from that standpoint Thailand today might not be the best country in the region to set up a manufacturing and sales business. I am now well established here, but if I had to do it over again I would really consider other Southeast Asian countries as well. (Read the full version of this interview on thebigchilli.com).