Profile: Paradise Found

UK ex-pat discovers his calling on the other side of the globe.

by staff writer
- Feb 22, 2010
Michael and Natjanya, Beautique Thai

Michael Ashura's midlife decision to sell his businesses and properties in the U.K. and seek a life of leisure in Thailand's tropical playground was a life-changing move, but not in the way he expected.

Shortly after relocating to the eastern province of Chonburi, he met and married his wife, Natjanya, and together they opened Beautique Thai, an online shop featuring unique and affordable handmade silk crafts from all over Thailand.

Now with this family-run business thriving and continually expanding, it seems retirement for Ashura will have to wait a bit longer.

Originally on eBay U.K., Beautique Thai expanded last year to Auctiva Commerce.

"After checking out the cost of opening and maintaining our own Web site, and the understanding of Web design and function required, we decided to go with one of the new Auctiva Commerce stores," he explains. "We saw this as an opportunity to be part of a supportive organization, with people going through the same learning process as we were. And, in those early days, the help generously given by other sellers and the Auctiva Commerce staff was paramount in our growing productively into the online selling community."

Ashura was no stranger to e-commerce when Beautique Thai first opened on eBay in 2006. He opened his first website in 2000 for his landscape design company and followed it with another in 2001 for his Thai villa rental business.

"I saw online selling as being a major growth area, with great future potential," he explains. "At first, it was just an addition to local and national magazine advertising. But by 2003, it had become a major contributor to our sales turnover."

A fortunate discovery

It was around that time, also, that Ashura discovered how eBay could help him move his business to a new level. After using the site to sell a few household items he no longer needed, he saw the potential for selling consumer products directly online. That year, he opened his first eBay Store selling gold jewelry.

The decision to launch an Auctiva Commerce Store was a natural evolution, and a way to exercise more control over branding, marketing and operating costs

"It was a moderate success, although I didn't have enough time to concentrate on sound marketing techniques," he muses. "So I let the online store sell out, and didn't replace items until I made a life-changing decision to move to Thailand in 2006. Originally, my intention was to move into semi-retirement. But I met my wife, Natjanya, got married, and we decided to put together a business that would be helpful to her extended family in the future."

The couple set out analyzing what products would be most saleable in the West, and discovered an array of colorful items made by local artisans that Ashura was sure would be of interest to people from the Western Hemisphere.

"Of course, these were products that were already available to Western markets," he says. "But there wasn't a big online presence selling them. And the businesses that were [selling online] seemed to concentrate on limited ranges, sizes and colors. We felt we could offer good in-depth range of products to give buyers a real choice."

For example, when they purchased their first batch of silk scarves, they bought five different styles, each in more than 30 colors.

Cultural appeal

As the eBay business grew, they kept a close eye on competitors and continued looking for new and innovative designs to expand their product lines. They also started purchasing inventory in larger quantities, a move that enabled them to sell wholesale as well as retail.

"Our store is like an extension of Thai culture," Ashura says. "As product ranges take root, we add new lines we feel will delight those people from around the world who have not had the opportunity to experience the beautiful cultures of Southeast Asia themselves. The generosity of colors, and the inclusion of cultural symbols such as the elephant, the wheel of life and other Buddhist icons are deeply embedded in the psyche of this part of the world."

Beautique Thai's ever-expanding product line also reflects Thailand's rich agricultural tradition. A line of herbal and personal care products introduced in 2009 has been very popular, as Western consumers increasingly embrace natural remedies, Ashura says.

"Thai people use herbal remedies to a great extent. There are plants growing here that do not grow in other parts of the world," he explains. "And scientists in Thailand and in the West are beginning to understand why extracts from these plants have served the people of Southeast Asia so well for thousands of years. Now we can say this isn't just myth. These products really work, and here's the evidence.

"So we have products for the home, for personal adornment, and a large and growing range of personal care products and good quality herbal remedies for everything from skin conditions to memory loss," he says.

We test reactions to new products on sites such as Facebook and Twitter

On solid ground

The decision to launch an Auctiva Commerce Store was a natural evolution, and a way to exercise more control over branding, marketing and operating costs. It's taken some trial and error to get the feel of the store just right, Ashura acknowledges, but he's found no shortage of help and advice from Auctiva and the Auctiva Commerce community.

"The Auctiva staff was always helpful, suggesting ways we might better use the facilities provided," he says. "The growing education base in Auctiva Commerce is one of its best assets. If we get stuck, we can refer to the extensive in-depth information readily available."

Ashura attributes the success of Beautique Thai to having "the right product at the right price, at the right time and presented in the right way," as well as a commitment to ethical business practices.

"We ensure our producers get a fair price for their product," he says. "We make sure we and our staff members extend a warm and friendly welcome to customers. We pack and ship promptly. We test reactions to new products on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And I guess it helps that we really enjoy what we're doing."

Visit Beautique Thai on eBay and on Auctiva Commerce.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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