We caught up with Michael at his Bangkok HQ, to find out how he managed to successfully enter this very competitive world.
So why back in 2006 did you choose to fly half way across the world to arrive in Thailand?
Mike: Originally, I moved to Singapore in 2002 to spend time with my father, loved Asia, so decided to stay. I met my future wife just two weeks after arriving, and eventually I moved to Thailand.
How did you start Fenix XCell?
Mike: I met a couple who were in the golf business at a tournament, and after a brief spell working together, decided to buy their half of the business and Fenix was born.
Do you remember your first retail customer?
Mike: Yes it was Muang Kaew. Luckily, I knew the GM there and he took a chance with us. At the same time, we got our first custom order from a Singapore finance company, and delivered shirts for their golf event in Thailand.
What were the challenges back then?
Mike: Finding the right materials, while keeping to the suppliers’ minimum orders was tough. We were a small company, so had to rely on leftover fabrics.
The other main challenge was keeping all our customers happy. I remember I even took orders for just five shirts with multiple logos, and delivering them myself!
Mike: Remember, many pro shops back then stocked the European brands, with fabrics better suited to the colder climates, whereas our fabrics were ideal for the humid Asian climate.
Well, the word of mouth was fantastic, and golfers liked our quality.
That’s why in 2016 we rebranded the business to Fenix XCELL.
So, Fenix XCell has expanded since those early days?
Mike: Indeed. We now have offices in Singapore, USA, and in the Middle East plus distributors in 15 other countries, and we compete with all the major brands.
How did Scott Hend, the Asian Tour Order of Merit Winner, become one of your partners?
Mike: Scott was the first player to wear our products, and over time as he continued to win big events, he decided to buy a percentage of the business.
How did you end up caddying for Scott?
Mike: I actually helped him at Amata Springs at the Thailand Golf Championship as a favour. But a couple of years later, his caddy got injured in the pro-am in Macau, and as we were apparel sponsors for the tournament, I offered to step in.
Little did I realise that the course was like climbing Mount Everest. It was also hot, so carrying his bag nearly killed me!!! He did OK, however, and I am still waiting for my 10%!!!
After all these years your little black book must be full of useful contacts?
Mike: Yes, we have worked with many top blue-chip companies, including American Express, HSBC, Porsche, BMW, RICOH, plus numerous golf clubs including Thai Country Club, Castle Stuart, Hong Kong Golf Club, Centurion Club, Amata Springs and Clearwater Bay.
We also supplied the official apparel for the Thailand Golf Championship, the Hong Kong Open and numerous Asian Tour events.
Recently some golf clubs have asked you to help design and make their uniforms. How does that work?
Mike: I was chatting one day to a GM at his course, and he was explaining to me the hassle they had ordering uniforms each season, dealing with up to ten different suppliers. One would handle the caddie shirts, another their trousers and another the outfits for the waitresses.
Since that chat, we have started to offer a bespoke service for golf clubs, by taking over the designing, costings, manufacturing and deliveries. Seems to be working, as they now just have one point of contact.
Ironically, we were recently asked to produce shirts for a major Thai factory. Our materials seemed ideal for the hot factory floor, and their staff loved the designs too. So, offering our Custom Design service to any business, is an area where we will be definitely expanding our business.
Mike: Again, I was speaking to this same GM who asked if we could also deliver some face masks with the club logo. Naturally as golf clubs are re-opening, they all need a reliable mask for their staff. By printing their logo on the mask, it carries forward the corporate look too. Better than staff turning to work in an assortment of home-made versions. Since then it has kept us all busy with orders coming in first from golf clubs, but now we are starting the print the masks for all types of businesses as well.
Now you’re a happily married man with a Thai wife and young son living in Bangkok, right?
Mike: I met my wife when I was only 18 while selling breast pumps to make some money, and she’s supported me from day one. We’ve had our cultural differences, but she has been behind me all the time.
Who are some of the best-known stars you have played with?
Mike: In my time I have been lucky to play with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Sandy Lyle, Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley and of course Scott Hend. I am not on top form right now, as I just do not have much time to practice. I play off three.
Finally, what are your top five golf gourses?
2. TPC Sawgrass
3. The National (Australia)
4. Clearwater Bay
5. Royal Dornoch