John Walsh returned as a guest speaker for the Wednesday, 4 November, meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club (PCEC). John previously spoke to the club in March of 2016 on the topic of “How to Operate a Massage Parlour” where he described how he successfully started his business, Nemo’s Guesthouse & Massage. He did succeed, continued to grow, and even opened a second location with a partner.
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But, four years after that presentation to the PCEC, the COVID pandemic hit Thailand and the world. Thus, his talk was about his initial opening of the business and success before the Pandemic, what happened as a result, and his hopes that his business can survive to continue afterward.
John began by again explaining the process he went through to open the business and how he learned to operate it successfully. This was by using a good solicitor to ensure it was legally established and that he had all the proper licenses. Additionally, he learned that he needed to adapt to the cultural differences involved in employing and working with a Thai staff.
He again mentioned his background and how a downturn in the automotive industry where he was in middle management resulted in his being laid off. After unsuccessfully looking for a job in the U.S., he took a three-week vacation in Thailand. It was then he thought about opening a business in Pattaya. But, to be successful, he knew one must apply due diligence.
He said that although he initially thought of opening a restaurant, he got a lucky break. A massage parlour called Nemo’s Lounge was for sale in Soi Diana which he had observed had a lot of people traffic, thus he knew this was a prime location. Although not knowing anything about running a massage business, he decided to give it a try; buying out the business and entering into a 15-year lease for the premises with the building landlord. Further, he reiterated that he wanted to operate a legitimate massage business unlike some others that can be found in Pattaya.
He first obtained the services of an experienced Solicitor to ensure that he was “legal” in all respects. He mentioned for instance that if one plans to play music, which he did to provide soft music in the background for his customers, you need to have two separate licenses which cost about 8 to 9 thousand baht each – one for farang music and another for Thai music. He also mentioned some of the scams that happen here; someone comes in claiming to be from the proper authorities and if you don’t have the appropriate license, demand money or confiscate your equipment. Thus, he said you need to check them out – call your solicitor who can verify they are in fact genuine.
He also cautioned that one should not get a one year lease. All too often if a landlord realizes you have a successful business, they will raise the rent or worse yet, not renew it and set up their own similar business. He suggested that one should use the 3x3x3 method; getting a 3 year lease and also executing another 3 year lease to follow and another 3 year lease to follow that.
He said that learning cultural differences where staff is concerned is important. Money isn’t everything to Thais. If they don’t like the boss or working conditions, then they leave. Also, if 2 or 3 come together looking for work, it is best not to hire them. The reason, if one gets upset or decides to leave, they all do.
John then mentioned how COVID impacted his business. On March 18, 2020, an official came to his business and ordered him close. It was sudden and he was told to close immediately. He objected as they had customers getting massages. He said the Official responded he could stay open one more hour and he would check back and they must be closed. If not, they would be closed permanently.
Initially, he thought it would be a short closure, but it was 3 months. During this period, he did do some remodeling. Although allowed to reopen, there were many health restrictions imposed. So, he had a decision to make, open, stay closed, or move on. He opted to open, but it has been a struggle. Authorities check regularly to be sure they are following all the requirements.
He mentioned the problems businesses have in trying to remain open. Less business requires cutting costs. Before COVID, he had 39 staff in both shops, now he has nine. The government has reduced the amount that must be paid for social security which helps. However, cutting some costs require an effort. One is renegotiating leases with landlords. Some are agreeable, others are not. He also found that during his 3 month closure, his electric bill was the same as when he was open. This took time and effort to get an adjustment. He also closed the guesthouse portion of his business and ceased playing background music when he chose not renew his music license.
In closing, John said it has been difficult, but he hopes they can ride it out. A lot will depend on when Thailand can open up to letting tourists return thus increasing the number of customers. John also announced several promotions he was doing to get more business and that he was offering 10% discount to PCEC members on all regularly priced services.
After the presentation, MC Ren Lexander brought everyone up to date on the latest events and called on member Ron Dittmer to conduct the Open Forum, where attendees can make comments or ask questions about Expat living in Thailand, especially Pattaya. For more information visit the PCEC’s website at www.pcec.club
To view a video of the presentation, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1IpOunaPHE