BUSINESSMAN: TONY TAYLOR
WHEN Tony Taylor started his business in Thailand in 1998, he had just one imported product for sale: a container-load of potato crisps from the UK. To his delight and surprise, this most humble of snacks caught on, especially among homesick Brits, and soon enough Tony couldn’t get enough of these crisps to meet demand.
The success of this product made him quickly realise that Brits living here pined for all kinds of other foodstuffs from UK. There was a gaping hole in the local food market and Tony was ready to fill it.
Today, 17 years later, this energized Londoner controls T.I.N. Trading, a company that ships in no less than 350 products, making him this country’s leading importer of English and Australian dried food items, condiments and beer.
Born in Stepney, a tough East End borough of London, Tony admits he wasn’t suited to school life and left at an early age. By this time, the family had moved to Hornchurch in Essex, where Tony became a builder, specializing in stone cleaning.
“I worked on some really major jobs like Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and the Houses of Parliament,” he says in an accent that’s pure Cockney. The money was good and Tony was busy, but an accident caused by the collapse of some scaffolding put an end to that career.
For the next three years, he worked in a flower business and then “found” Thailand. Initially, Tony spent six months here and the rest of the year back in the UK. It wasn’t too long, however, before he saw his future in Thailand and began looking around for business opportunities.
“I thought to myself, what do people always do, whatever is happening around them. They eat and drink – and that’s what they do when they’re happy and also when they’re sad.
“I had been in a bar in Pattaya and saw packets of Walkers crisps on the counter. I did some research and discovered that no one was actually importing them here, so I called up the manufacturer in Leicester in England, bluffed it a bit, and told him I had a company and wanted to import his crisps into Thailand. The fellow said ‘that’s impossible. We don’t export our crisps.’
“By coincidence, I happened to know that someone in Spain was importing Walkers crisps. I told the guy, who was a bit surprised but said that if I could be in Leicester within four days I’d get the contract. I made it.
“Five weeks later, 820 cases of Walkers crisps arrived by ship from England and I sold the lot in just two days. Using a Toyota pick-up truck, I took them to Phuket, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Hua Hin. Every five weeks after that we got another delivery from the UK.”
The market for Walkers is not exclusively expats. “Thais like them as well,” says Tony. “I know a Thai lady who got to like Walkers while studying in the UK. She says there’s nothing like them in Thailand.”
The success of this import inevitably had Tony asking himself what else did Brits miss while in Thailand. The answer came quickly in the form of a long list of much-talked but generally unobtainable products from the UK such as Marmite, PG Tips, HP Sauce, Colman’s Mustard, Bisto gravy, Branston Pickle, Fray Bentos Corned Beef, baked beans and even jelly beans.
With all the proper licences in place and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval, Tony kept adding to his products portfolio.
His big break, however, came six years ago when this country’s major supermarkets lessened their dependency on American imported foods and began shopping around for British goods. Tony’s company was perfectly placed to cash in.
“Supermarkets like Big C, Makro, Tesco and Tops could go direct to the manufacturers in the UK but they’d have to wait six months for FDA approval, so they’re better off working with me.”
In 2004, he expanded into the drinks business, importing small-size bottles of wine and alcohol for hotel mini-bars. This quickly ended when the Thaksin government changed regulations to allow only the import of full-size bottles.
Far from discouraging Tony, the new regulations spurred him on to bigger things, and he began importing an-ever growing range of canned, bottled and draft beers in kegs and ciders. Aimed mostly at Thailand’s expat pubs and bars, they include well-known brands like Tetley’s, Fosters, VB, Pure Blond, Peroni, Grolsch and Crown as well as traditional English ales such as Old Speckled Hen, Greene King IPA, Abbotts, and Ruddles County.
More recently, he’s also become the sole importer and distributor of Fashion Vodka, Prosecco and Royal Jamaican Rum.
The kids’ market has not been overlooked. Tony now imports non-alcoholic drinks depicting popular Disney characters and movies like Frozen and Star Wars. Other non-alcoholic products include Tizer, Tango, Robinson and Britvic.
At the same time, his food range has continued to expand with the addition of Bird’s Eye fish products and all kinds of traditional British cheeses.
Tony operates out of a 1,200 sq m warehouse on Rama 9 road and with business booming he’s looking for bigger premises and more staff.
Many of his workers have been with the company since he started. “They’re good people and I respect them,” says Tony, who doesn’t mind admitting that some of his Thai male workers have learned more than basic skills from him. “I swear a lot, and now many of them curse in English like I do.”
In the 18 years he’s been in business in Thailand, the only problem he faces on a regular basis concerns changes in local laws. “It’s a major headache,” he says. “The government changes laws without telling us, so we either have to work around it or through it.
“But I’m not complaining. As I said, Thailand has been very good to me – where else could I have done what I’ve done here? I think of those expats who move to Cambodia to do business; if they can’t do it here, they can’t do it there either.”