The power of branding and design: Thailand’s Qualy goes global
By Rattanyu Dechjejaruwat, Development Sector, WIPO
Crises do not always lead to unfavorable outcomes. That was the experience of the New Arriva Company, a small family-run enterprise in Bangkok, Thailand, and its Qualy brand.
The company’s Director of Design, Teerachai Suppameteekulwat, explains how hard times created an opportunity for business renewal and innovation. He discusses the company’s changing fortunes and the central role that intellectual property (IP) plays in its business strategy.
Can you tell us about how Qualy emerged?
Our family business had been operating as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) since 1977 under the name Saint Louis Plas-Mold. We produced plastic parts for companies in multiple sectors. But tough pricing competition meant the company became less and less profitable. We fell on hard times and realized we had to change our business model. That is what prompted my brother, Thossaphol, and me to set up a subsidiary, the New Arriva Company, to launch the Qualy brand. I had gained a few years of practical experience as an industrial designer and my brother had just graduated from his marketing studies, so the time was ripe for us to build our own brand and to design and make products that matched our beliefs and our design thinking. We realized that if the company was to thrive, we needed to put innovation at the heart of our business strategy.
How did you come up with the name Qualy?
The name Qualy encapsulates our beliefs and values and our commitment to social, economic and environmental sustainability. It stands for:
Q – Quality: we design, finish and produce our products to a high quality;
U – Uniqueness: our products must stand out in the market;
A – Aesthetics: we ensure our products are tasteful, functional and decorative;
L – Long lasting: we place great emphasis on the sustainable use of our products; and
Y – You: our design priorities are driven by the needs and lifestyles of our customers.
We target consumers with a modern lifestyle who have an eye for innovative design.
What were the main challenges you faced in setting up Qualy?
We had zero experience in marketing and selling products in this sector, but we recognized the advantages of working closely with our customers to develop the products they want to buy. This approach also enabled us to apply our “out of the box” approach to product design. One of the big challenges we face in this respect is that customers always remember our products but not our brand. So building brand recognition is a key priority for us, and we are making progress in this area. Today, we are selling our products in more than 50 countries around the world, including in Asia, Europe, America and Australia.
What is the source of your inspiration?
We take a lot of inspiration from nature and animals. Our aim is to make the world a better and happier place. We engage a great deal with our customers and take our cue from them when it comes to product development. People often smile when they come across our products, which are very practical and distinctive. Each one has a story. One of our aims is to get people thinking more about the environment. Take, for example, our Log&Roll kitchen paper holder, which is designed to draw attention to the link between paper, trees, the animals that live in them and the implications of deforestation. We pay a great deal of attention to detail at every step of production, from design, manufacture, and packaging through to marketing and distribution. We also recognize the importance of building meaningful relationships with all stakeholders, including suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, government authorities and of course our customers. This is an important part of our success.
What role does IP play in the company?
IP is central to the company’s business strategy. Our strength is the originality and uniqueness of our products. IP is very important in terms of both designing and branding them.
Trademark rights are essential for our business: to grow a business and to enter markets in Asia, Europe and the United States, you need to be protected. At present we have some 10 registered trademarks around the world, including in China, the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the United States. Our trademarks underpin every aspect of our marketing activity and help ensure that our products are recognizable and stand out in the marketplace.
Industrial design rights are also important to us. Design is at the core of Qualy’s vision. We believe innovative design is the key to the success of our business. It is the basis on which we compete and drives the development of our products. Design enables us to create new business opportunities and attract new customers.
We put many resources into designing, developing and manufacturing each new product, and we safeguard that investment through IP rights. Without IP, all those efforts would be meaningless and we would be unable to protect our products and our business interests. At present, the company holds industrial design registrations for more than 200 products in Thailand, including for our Sparrow Key Ring, the Flip Cup, Autumn, Four Seasons, Lotus Cotton Bud and Night Owl.
How do these rights support your business interests?
IP rights enable us to defend our market position and protect ourselves from being copied by others. Just recently, a company notified us that we had infringed their product design, but thanks to our design registration we were able to take remedial action and prove that it was in fact they who had infringed our design rights.
Our trademark registrations mean we can get our products into big department stores in Asia, Europe and the United States more easily. They also enable us to defend our brand. There are many companies out there producing low-quality imitations of our products, so our IP portfolio helps us prevent others from selling copies of our products.
Any company that wants to succeed in highly competitive international markets needs to safeguard its IP assets. I can’t overemphasize how important it is for entrepreneurs to invest in protecting their IP rights.
What impact has the Internet and social media had on your business?
The Internet has both pros and cons. On the positive side, it is a quick and cost-effective means of promoting our products online and enables us to save on marketing and advertising costs. We actively use Facebook to promote our products. While sales vary from one year to the next, just recently we have seen strong growth in Europe, which accounts for around 50 percent of our business. Asia and the USA accounts for around 48 percent of sales, and Thailand only makes up around 2 percent of annual sales. But with more Thai consumers getting into design these days, we have huge scope for growth in our home market.
Innovative design is the key to the success of our business. It is the basis on which we compete and drives the development of our products.
Access to the Internet also helps the product development process. For example, it enables us to easily search, check and verify the originality of our ideas before investing fully in their development. In this way we don’t waste resources on developing products that already exist in the market.
But on the downside, wide use of the Internet means our product designs are infringed more easily and rapidly. Even the descriptions and photos of our products have been stolen for use on websites peddling counterfeit products. We spend a lot of time dealing with this type of infringement. It is a real challenge and is very costly. But I guess on the bright side it does underline the growing popularity of our products. The big risk is that we spend too much time tackling IP infringements and not enough developing new products. At the end of the day, creativity is our strength, and we need to keep developing new, more attractive, higher-quality products.
How would you like to see the IP system evolve?
Innovative businesses like Qualy help drive economic growth but if they are to really thrive, they need a supportive business environment. Governments can support small businesses by making it easier and cheaper for them to register and protect their IP assets in global markets by implementing simpler and more streamlined online IP registration systems, for example. I am delighted that Thailand recently joined the Madrid System for the international registration of marks. That will make it a lot easier for us to protect our brands internationally. Beyond this, given the importance of IP to business growth and the economy, it is really important to teach children about IP from a young age. This will promote greater respect for IP and ensure that it becomes a core social value.
What plans do you have for the future?
We are very proud that we have created a Thai brand that is now competing with top global brands. But we still have a long way to go. Our mission is to strengthen global recognition of the Qualy brand. That is why we are training our employees in all areas of production, from product design and manufacture to marketing and distribution. Our strength is our ability to develop new, high-quality, creative and innovative products that are distinctive, so we will continue to focus on enhancing our product range and introducing it to more customers. We recently set up a new distribution operation in the Netherlands, Qualy & Co., which will enable us to sell our products to retailers across Europe. Our ambition is to expand our product range, strengthen brand recognition and bring many other Thai brands to the world stage. In the meantime, we are having fun and are proud to be creating innovative products that thrill our customers around the world.
The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.