Bryant Olson, Heading to the Stars
6 July 2017
Selling 150 dollar shampoos in Thailand: Bryant Olson took on the challenge in 2010, when accepting ownership of the famous Philip B brand in the kingdom. Many people told him it was impossible. He proved otherwise. For Bryant, the Thai luxury market is booming and there is obviously a clientele for his high-end products. The dynamic CEO has confided us some of his success secrets and marketing strategies.
WITH PRICES RANGING FROM 650 TO 21,000 BAHT, PHILIP B is one of the most expensive hair-care brands in the world and its products are extremely popular among the rich and famous, from Hollywood to Bangkok. “Madonna, Lady Gaga or Alisa Boonyachinda, nearly 300 stars claim to use our shampoos,” proudly states Bryant Olson, CEO of Philip B in Thailand.
Hollywood Hair Stylist Philippe Berkovitz founded the Philip B hair and skin care company in 1991. Realizing the ravages of many cosmetics on his customers’ hair, he decided to turn to natural products and essential oils. “All the cleaning agents used in Philip B shampoos are natural derivatives from coconut, lavender, oud or truffle oil,” Bryant explains. If a truffle flavored shampoo may seem surprising, thanks to the lavender its perfume is in fact very pleasant and light, while the oud oil leaves an intoxicating perfume for a long time. Natural and exceptional, Philip B products are all certified paraben-free and soft for colored hair.
In Thailand, the brand started in 2010 and was initially only available on the Internet. Then the first shop opened in 2013 at EmQuartier, in Bangkok. Today, Philip B is distributed in nine outlets in Bangkok and Phuket, a quick evolution in an ever-growing market.
Bryant, how did you become CEO of Philip B in Thailand?
My first trip to Thailand was in 1994, but it was only in 2009 that I decided to live here permanently. Initially, I was retired, at 30–31! Before that, I was working for some furniture design in Indonesia, but around 2008–2009 the market started to go down, globally. So I came to Thailand to take time off , to figure out what I wanted to do. I spent one year in Chiang Mai, where I did a million things, like meditate, teach English… After a year, I got really bored and then came to Bangkok. I wanted to come back to design but I found it was difficult here as a foreigner. I taught English again, in an orphanage in Klong Toey, to try and help Thai society, to create better perspectives for those who don’t necessarily have a future.
I’ve known Philip for a really long time from Los Angeles and we are good friends. In 2009–2010, he gave me the ownership of his brand for Southeast Asia and for Thailand speci cally. At this point he was already distributed in 40 countries and he told me: “I give this to you, I know you can make it big!”.
How did it happen?
First, we started online and in some salons, and then we launched our first shop at EmQuartier in 2013. We grew up very quickly and it’s still growing. Our clientele is not the average Thai people, they are the richest of the rich and they don’t spend a little amount of money. Some of our customers can spend 1 million Baht at once! They will go to the store and they will buy everything to put at home in every bathroom, and they have many homes…
In Europe or in the US, our buyers represent 1% of the population, here in Thailand, the wealthy class represents 7%. In Siam Paragon, we could sell for 600,000 Baht of shampoos a month!
What about your marketing strategies?
What to make it famous? Well, to be honest the brand is the most recommended brand in the world by the Hollywood celebrities, from Madonna to Lady Gaga or Sharon Stone. We used this aura to our benefit and so we started to do exactly the same here. Initially,
I worked with a PR company, but after 6 months I was not so happy with them and started to call some magazines myself, as a foreigner. Elle magazine was very supportive, they did a lot of content for us and then Marie-Claire followed and all the magazines, such as Vogue, Bazaar… Bangkok is a big city but it’s also a small village, when you start to meet people, you meet them again and meet more people and suddenly you hang out with everybody, that’s how it works.
And the online marketing?
Online is the most important thing now. Globally people are reading as much as they should online. So we have a presence on some magazines but mostly online. To make this kind of business worth it, you should go after the celebrities online: beauty bloggers, people who have millions of followers, that’s how you get the name to be known.
Social media are really important all around the world but, in my opinion, it’s even more important in Asia. Everybody is posting selfies and food pictures here and the general consumers believe everything that’s posted. It’s different than the European or US people, they don’t believe just because Kim Kardashian posted something that’s actually good. Here people are more “if she says it’s good then it’s good”. Europe and the US are more, “maybe, maybe not”, people are more critical, here they will say it’s great because she said it. Thanks to all of this, now we are really famous in Thailand!
Is Thailand a different market or do you have the same growth everywhere?
I asked Philip B and he said it had to be about me. The Middle East, Dubai, Taiwan, Japan are also some incredibly successful markets. I think USA, France, UK, Thailand and Middle East are on top. This is a luxury brand, so you need to have a wealthy population…
Philip wanted to launch in Thailand 20 years ago, but the timing was not right. At that time, Thailand was not ready for such a brand.
What are the keys to success as a foreigner in Thailand?
For me the first rule to make a business here is quality. The product must be amazing, it doesn’t matter if it’s perfume or shampoo or clothing, it must be good, really good, not only look good but perform, and that’s what this brand does.
Second rule: be patient. Especially here, where not everything is going to black or white, some things are really grey… I know many people in Thailand who don’t go necessarily the legal way, but we have everything registered and I think on the long-term, it is the best way to do it, but you have to be patient.
Third rule: you have to be known, and the best way to do that is to meet people who can spread the word. Having a presence among the people who have their own network. So you have to diversify: magazines, celebrities, beauty influencers, all of these work together, you must have all of them.
Does the fact that you can speak Thai really help?
For sure! I sometimes do TV shows and Thai people love when a foreigner can speak Thai. Just to communicate with your employees, it’s important to speak their language. 90 % of my staff are really amazing. I would lie if I said we didn’t have turnover, but we try to teach them to build good relationships with the customers and we give them a commission on the sales to keep their motivation, we offer incentive every month, products… Now, I have really good staff .
In Thailand, there are a lot of copies, do you have some fake shampoo here?
Of course. We have people who sell online, most of the fakes are coming from the Chinese market. It’s dangerous to buy fakes, because you don’t know what’s inside. If you can pay 2,000 Baht, you will not spend money on a fake copy when you can have the original for 2,500 Baht at the shop.