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SUCCESS STORY: The publisher

Grenville Fordham is is founder and boss of guide and magazine publisher Image Asia. He is also a leading light in the island's sailing community.


By Alasdair Forbes

Friday 25 May 2012, 10:15AM


Out of the office, Grenville Fordham’s favourite place is at the helm of his catamaran Nina.

Out of the office, Grenville Fordham’s favourite place is at the helm of his catamaran Nina.

When did you arrive in Phuket?

There’s some debate about this. I think it was September 1998, but others think it was a year earlier. I do know that I arrived in Bangkok on May 5, 1995.

 

What made you think of starting a business in Phuket?

I came here to work as editor of a glossy Phuket magazine. I soon realised that almost nobody was really tackling the publishing business here professionally; at the same time I started to miss the cut and thrust of business. After a few false starts, a friend suggested a dining guide – and we were away.

 

Was this something you had done before, or did you have to learn from scratch?

A bit of both. With a background in hotel management, international marketing, property development and – since arriving in Thailand – journalism, I had most of the tools. I just had to learn how to apply them in a new business environment.

 

What was your initial investment?

My last B500,000. Subsequently, a couple of investors came on board to help develop an events side to the business.

 

Landmarks in the development of the business?

Selling the first couple of listings in Where to Eat, because I knew I’d got the formula and timing right. Then launching our second publication, aimed at the (then) burgeoning property market. Launching the Phuket Boatshow (2003) and Phuket Raceweek (2004) were major moves for us, but they turned out to be red herrings.

 

On a scale of 1 for “not at all” to 10 for “absolutely”, how has your business developed compared with your initial expectations?

I guess it’s a 10. Starting with such little capital, growth has always been an uphill struggle, so I’m still a bit surprised at where we’ve gone.

 

What was easiest to do in developing your business? What was most difficult?

Easiest was working out the format and market positioning for our publications. Toughest, keeping one step ahead of the copycats and riding out the never-ending crises that seem to be a feature of doing business here.

 

La Boucherie

If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?

Apart from not going down the events route at all, the only thing I’d do differently is start younger and richer.

 

How much was culture clash a factor in the way your business developed?

Not at all. I spent eight years in the 1970s and ’80s travelling the world on business, then three years working with Thais in Bangkok, before coming to Phuket. It’s all about working with, instead of against, the culture.

 

What do you love/hate most about what you do?

Bringing a new publication into being gives me a real kick. Ploughing through accounts I could do without.

 

How is business right now? Are you affected much by local/national/international economic issues?

The collapse of the property market and the global financial mess hit our clients and therefore us. Most market sectors are improving and the property industry is coming back slowly. A lot of my time now is spent on how to tackle new (to us) markets and products and making sure we don’t fall behind our competitors.

 

Have you been affected by increasing competition? How do you counter that?

Competition today is not only more prolific, but more professional. We have to run faster and be better just to stand still. Delivering on promises is a cornerstone of our business. Growth comes from product development.

 

Where do you go from here?

Lurching crazily into cyberspace, while keeping our feet planted in traditional publishing.

 

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs starting up in Phuket?

Don’t assume it’s easy. Be patient. Check out your intended market carefully and keep an eagle eye on your bank balance. Make friends, not enemies!

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