Fresh Appeal

By Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat
Bangkok Post, Thailand.

Twenty years ago, she was just a little girl playing around her mother’s small stall, selling fresh fruit in Pak Khlong Talat, the famous fruit and vegetable wholesale market near the Memorial Bridge popularly known among foreigners as the “Flower Market”.

Nowadays, 30-year-old Watjarin Dejtewandamrong runs the huge Iyara fruit market that sits o a 50-rai plot of land in Pathum Thani province, creating new ways as she goes along to further boost the business her father had left to take charge.

“Dealing with perishable goods, you need to be adventurous and decisive or you will get nothing as fruit rot very quickly. You need to sell them as fast as you can in order to capitalise on good prices when they are still fresh,” says Ms Watjarin.

“You just have accept the losses incurred by fruit that are starting to rot.” It was a valuable advice from her father Suwaj Dejtewandamrong.

Ms Watjarin says her father was a hard-working man who always tried to ensure the financial security of his family. That forced him to leave home for a few months each time he was away to seek good quality fruit across the country in order to help cut the costs charged by the middlemen.

“While I was a child helping my mother sell fruit at Pak Khlong Talat, my father spent up to a few months travelling to the northern provinces to seek premium-grade longan and lychee, which we could sell at a higher margin,” she says.

As business got better, Mr Suwaj was able to expand.

“After spending more than a decade in the fruit business, my father knew every aspect of it,” Ms Watjarin says.

It was through a Malaysian entrepreneur her father befriended that Mr Suwaj got into the fruit export business. He started selling fruit from northern Thailand in Malaysia where consumers considered them rare due to the different soil and weather conditions they grew in — and therefore enticing.

While her father focused on exporting Thai fruit, her mother imported rare fruit from China, expanding the business and boosting the profit margin.

Then came the severe flood of 2011, which meant disaster for many Thais and the national economy.
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But for the Dejtewandamrong family, it was a blessing in disguise.

The flood forced an acquaintance to go bankrupt and to offer to sell her father a 50-rai plot in Pathum Thani at a good price. An opportunity he could not miss, Mr Suwaj bought it and then developed into a huge wholesale and retail venture, the Iyara fruit market.

Iyara market houses hundreds of fruit stalls from which Ms Watjarin’s family earns rental fees. The family also runs its own fruit business.

“Thailand produces several kinds of tropical fruit that boast the best taste compared with those from other countries in the region. That allows us to capitalise on being a place where buyers meet sellers. At the same time, we help people to earn a living,” she says.

It will take a few years to establish Iyara and build its reputation among fruit wholesalers, retailers and consumers, she admits. But with such a goal in mind, Ms Watjarin has begun to find ways to add value to the business.

Among her innovative ideas is a small air-conditioned supermarket she dubs Iyara’s premium zone, which is dedicated to selling top quality fruit.

“Our customers can find the best grade of both imported and local fruit in the premium zone. There you can find the best grade of Thai mango in luxury packaging, the same grade that you find in Australia and Europe,” she says.

In the premium fruit zone, she says each type of fruit imported from all over the world is displayed with a description of their characteristics and how they differ according to where they come from.

“I try to make our products and services different from others. At the same time, I try to make our customers feel confident about the quality of our products,” says Ms Watjarin.

In addition, she also provides a delivery service for those who buy premium fruit, which she claims is the first of its kind in the fruit retail business.

“For purchases of 3,000 baht or more, we deliver to your home on the same day of your order free of charge. However, if you buy less than 3,000 baht, we charge 300 baht for the delivery service,” she says.

Ms Watjarin says the delivery service has boosted the popularity of her premium fruit with the number of deliveries rising to more than 60 a day, up from 20 during the start of the business in early 2015.

Following the success of her premium fruit and delivery ventures, Ms Watjarin has come up with a new business model: fruit franchises.

“It comes under the concept of bringing fruit close to you,” she says. The project started late last year with three franchisees in Bangkok and its suburbs.

Under the scheme, franchisees will be given the necessary equipment, including small kiosks and fruit chillers.

“All the franchisees need to do is to order the fruit from us,” she says.

And she’s not stopping there, says Ms Watjarin. There will be new ideas and business models to create added value for her family business.

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