In this episode of The Business of Antiques Toma Clark Haines - CEO of The Antiques Diva & Co and Angela Somwaiya owner of Paul's Antiques in Bangkok discuss Angela's journey as an American expat running an antiques store in Thailand.
Paul’s Antiques is Bangkok's best antique shop popular among diplomats, expats, tourists and collectors. It’s a veritable cornucopia of precious objects and furniture from South East Asia. Tucked in a quiet soi off bustling Sukhumvit, the store has an unparalleled collection of Burmese colonial pieces, Thai teak furniture, rare textiles, collectibles, and eclectic finds.
Angela shares her story how she, as a Chicago native, adopted Thailand as her home and her decision to buy Paul's Antiques. She was raised shopping in flea markets and thrift stores in the USA so, when and her husband were decorating their Bangkok home, she frequented Paul's store to buy antiques. When she heard he was considering closing his store - she offered to buy it. This is a decision that changed her life.
Paul’s Antiques was founded in 1994 by Paul Vail, an American expat who settled in Thailand and fell in love with Burmese colonial teak furniture. Originally selling at exhibitions only, Angela and her husband were among Paul’s first customers. Paul went on to revamp a 100-year-old teak house, which served as the first home for his vast eponymous collection complete with an in-house workshop for restorations and repairs. In 2008, Angela bought the business at its latest location in Sukhumvit Soi 13. She made her mark by expanding the collection to include pieces from all over Asia, such as lacquerware, statues, found-art, architectural salvage, and hard-to-find collectibles. She developed a revolutionary workshop and established a loyal customer base including some of Bangkok’s most beloved hotels.
Holding a Bachelor's Degree in Japanese Studies and a Master's Degree in Thai Studies, Angela’s passion for the cultural relevance of each object shines through when you inquire about a piece. Angela talks about the importance for antique dealers to know their inventory, understand the stories, and also relate their cultural significance. Educating her clients is at the core of Angela's business.
Toma and Angela discuss Angela's decision to buy an established antiques store instead of starting her own business from scratch. They discuss the pros and cons of this situation -the pros involve optimized SEO, an established client list, and reputation; while the cons mean you have to set your own ego aside if the store is named after someone else. In the case of Angela, her store is named Paul’s Antiques - so when clients walk in the door - they are looking for Paul. Angela details how, as she gained confidence as an owner of the store, people stopped asking for Paul and began looking to her because they could see by her confidence that she is the proprietor. Toma tells a story of how Angela is the essence of confidence when she walks through (and drives!) through the streets of Bangkok. They discuss the thrill of the hunt detailing how to buy antiques in Asia. Why Bangkok, Chang Mai, and Bali are the best places to source antiques in Asia and encourage you to book an antique buying tour in Asia. Toma tells how she and Angela first met and why she asked Angela to be the head sourcing agent for her antique buying tours in Asia.
They talk about what it means to be “ahead of the curve”. How being first in a market place is not always easy and they discuss the future of antiques.
Spoiler alert: the future is so bright, you have to wear shades.
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