Laurie Muir, In His Own Words
Barter is the most basic level of trade – the exchange of one product or service for another. Cash was only developed to act as a go-between for when you need a product or service but do not have anything of equal value that the other party wants. However, following global recessions, some other means of exchange is required.
From this need, the barter industry was born. It is especially thriving here in Pattaya, with Bartercard, BBX and BIZpaye all available. The latter of these (BIZpaye) was formed by a man with over 20 years of Barter Industry experience at the highest levels, he is Pattaya's own “Mr Barter”. He is Laurie Muir.
How did your career get started?
I've always worked. Before I left school, I used to work in butcher's shops and fruit shops after school to make a bit of money. Originally, I wanted to buy a bicycle and didn't want to rely on Mum and Dad, so I started earning for myself.
I left school in Year 10 and followed my father's footsteps, becoming a butcher. I was one of the youngest ever meat managers for Woolworths – I was a manager before I'd even finished my apprenticeship. When I was 16, I also started working part-time as a DJ, which I did for 20 years both full time and part time.
I gave up butchering after about seven or eight years and worked as a DJ full-time. I then decided that I wanted to further my career, so I went to university and studied for a degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management with a major in Marketing. I then started marketing for some of the hotels and venues around town. Then I got a job as a marketing officer for Dominos Pizza in Australia, while still working as a DJ, and then became the New South Wales marketing manager for Dominos.
From there, I landed a job as a senior marketing and trade advisor to the South Pacific Heads of Government and Business – a diplomatic position. We worked for the South Pacific Trade Commission. We looked after the 16 forum island nations which surround Australia, which include places like Fiji, Vanuatu and so on. We provided marketing and trade advice on how governments and businesses could access and promote their goods into Australia. That's about the time when I got married.
I landed a job, when we moved to Queensland, as the marketing manager for the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We had about 26,000 businesses as our clients at the time, making us the largest chamber of commerce in Australia. We provided a number of core services which a traditional chamber of commerce doesn't provide like legal and statutory advice and things like that.
I then got offered the role of global marketing manager for Bartercard. There was rapid growth in that time, but after several years I got sick and tired of the boardroom side of it. I decided that I wanted a sea change in life. Having never been a sales person before, I went into sales – recruiting members to join Bartercard. After four months, I broke their 10-year world record in sales. The average salesperson brought in about 10 new clients a month. I brought in 43 which was quite an achievement.
What brought you to Thailand?
We had an international sales conference in Phuket, with all the top sales people for Bartercard from around the world there. The owner of Bartercard in Thailand asked if I wanted to buy a franchise, so I bought the Phuket franchise. I never bought it to run it but as an investment because I was still based in Australia, but I ended up spending more time in Thailand. Then the guys who bought the Pattaya franchise asked me to come on board as a partner. I then relocated my family permanently to Pattaya.
The reason we chose Pattaya is because my wife is in oil and gas – she's an engineer. All of the oil and gas is on the Eastern Seaboard, so it made logical sense.
Our business in Phuket went through a fairly rough time because it never really recovered after the tsunami [in 2004]. Meanwhile, we grew the Pattaya office to about 700 members at one stage. Between them, Phuket and Pattaya were such prominent Franchises for Bartercard that they were the only offices available for resale on Bartercard International’s home page. Usually they would only offer entire countries for sale.
I left Bartercard after 15 years working for them, having pretty much done it all with them. I then got offered the role of international manager for BBX. I spent the next few years travelling around the world almost constantly, training franchisees how to improve their businesses. .
What can you tell us about BIZpaye?
I always wanted to open up my own barter exchange , but I wanted to do something different. The current barter companies around the world have all been doing the same thing for the past 35 years, that is making businesses buy and sell only in barter, not cash. Rather than follow suit and do the same thing, I wanted to do something completely different, where businesses had more flexibility in their trading. That is BIZpaye.
The support for BIZpaye so far has been incredible, we already have agreements to open in nine countries. We've already opened in Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and India. In the last few weeks, we've signed an agreement to open in five Scandinavian countries being Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, which will make 14 countries.
What is the future of the barter industry?
To give you an example, Bartercard was born out of the recession. When money's tight, people turn to bartering. In the last few years, the world's economies have been on shaky ground, so people are naturally looking at alternatives.
The modern day barter industry has been around for 35 years now and it'll only get stronger and stronger as economies get tougher and tougher. The World Bank estimates the barter industry is currently worth US$16 trillion a year, though that's made up of all sort of government and corporate bartering. The Thai government, for example, is one of the biggest bartering nations in the world. Most of the Olympic sponsorship is done on direct barter deals, too. It's a different level of bartering, but it is the same concept.
We believe (BIZpaye) that we're going to attract different types of business which wouldn't normally look at bartering because they don't want to get locked into 100 per cent trade with no cash. Businesses which couldn't afford it in the past can afford the flexibility of what we're doing at BIZpaye.
What do think the population of Pattaya is and how much of that is expatriates?
Depending on how far you're talking, if you're going as far as Sri Racha and things like that, I'd say you're looking at close to a million people. I'd say there'd probably have to be over 100,000 expatriates.
Many condo projects have a 49/51 per cent split of foreigner and Thai owners. Something like Grande Caribbean has 1,050 condos, so that's 500 foreign-owned condos, meaning at least 500 expats. Times that by the number of developments there are around town and you have the reason why the traffic levels have sky-rocketed in recent years, but that’s not a bad thing.
Because there are a lot more foreign business owners in Pattaya than there are in Bangkok, that means that the majority of barter clients here are foreigners. People come here to open businesses because its one of very few ways to stay here legally. In Bangkok, it's the other way – most of the clients are Thai.