Yes They Can!

The Issue

I wasn't sure how I was going to approach this subject because the potential for insulting our Thai hosts is high, yet this isn't my intention.  Please accept my apologies if you see this blog entry as an insult, and please try to accept it in the spirit intended.

At times I've lost faith in obtaining quality craftsmanship from Thai craftsmen.  More, much of the time I feel we have to spend an inordinate amount of time just making sure the job gets done and that we don't get cheated in the process.  A recent renovation of BKK Images HQ lasted several months and while the job was done to my satisfaction, it required my daily presence, hourly supervision, and being on guard during the entire process to make sure substandard materials weren't being substituted, substandard techniques weren't being employed, and that mistakes weren't covered up with a cheap coat of paint.

The list of such examples is very long and I'm sure most of you who have been here any time at all have their own list of examples.  Often it's training, and often it's attitude.  It seems that until recently most every exception involves foreign owned or managed businesses.  The Service Center at Canon and Nikon are examples of exceptions.  The mechanics in the service area of Toyota would be another.  I could give you a list of foreign franchised restaurants and businesses which were doing very well when the foreign management was watching over things during the grand opening months, but once they returned to their own countries everything fell back to the low quality product and services you've come to expect of Thai run and/or managed businesses.

This is why I'm pleased to share an exception.  During the last week we've purchased a new vehicle for Bangkok Images.  To say we've had our issues with the Thai owned and managed sales staff would be an understatement.  A huge understatement.  I'm not going to rant about these experiences, despite the temptation being very high to do so.  Instead when a Thai owned and managed business not only pleased me, but performed their services at the very same high level of quality I know is possible, I'll admit to being stunned.  Pleasantly stunned!


New Toyotoa Vigo at the Sound Lab. Bangkok

Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8  @F5.6  1/8th  ISO 3200



Better Sound is Needed

The factory stereo system in our new vehicle left a lot to be desired.  So, on Friday evening after picking up the new vehicle I was driving home when I saw "The Sound Lab" which I've driven by thousands of times during the last four years.  With visions of poorly trained Thai workers tearing apart my brand new interior and fiddling with the wiring dancing crudely through my mind.. I pulled into a parking space and was promptly greeted by the manager.  He asked what he could do for me and I promptly replied "my new truck has only 13 km on it, can you promise me you won't hurt it?"  He smiles and nodded his head and then took me around to see different cars being worked on.  From simple jobs costing a few thousand baht, to several jobs costing 1.5 million baht or more.  People putting several million baht into their sound systems wouldn't go to a bad place would they? 

He took me into the showroom and showed me the bare minimum head unit replacement which fit my needs.  It was 5000 baht.  He didn't attempt to push any others, I had to ask.  He patiently and completely showed me every unit he had, in order, until I told him I'd heard enough.  I ended up selecting a dual DIN sized JVC DVD player with IPod, USB, and other support.  A model I remember a friend in the states just bought for $525 and he'd sent me the JVC link.  I asked how much and he quoted a price which beat my friends price in the states by more than $100.  I figured he'd stick it to me with installation, but installation was free.  I figured he'd charge my visa the customary 2-3% smaller merchants so often charge, but he didn't.  I figured he'd try to sell me expensive speakers and amplifiers, but he didn't.  He simply listened to me, went and got a new unit from the storeroom, and asked for my keys.  He said it would be installed in 30 minutes.  It was installed in 20. 

During the installation I watched his workmen.  They were very careful with the interior pieces they removed, and careful to cover the new seats so dirt from their clothes didn't make them dirty.  They used the proper tools to remove the trim pieces and stock radio.  They carefully preserved the stock radio and it's wiring and packed it in a box so I can save it, in the event I sold this car and wanted to return the stereo to original.  Every wiring connection was carefully soldered, heat shrinked, and then taped.  The connections were wrapped solidly and the solder connection was bright and shiny.  They finished the connections, bolted the new unit in place, and reinstalled the trim pieces.  THEN they sat there and took the time to tune the equalizer, set the time and date, and then walk me through the operations in fairly good English.  Finally, the wiped their fingerprints from the trim and paint, vacuumed up the wire bits and pieces, and returned the keys.  I drove home listening to my new unit with an excellent feeling of customer service.


Sound Lab technicians installing stereo

Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8  @F4  1/40th  ISO 160



Speakers Too!

In fact, I could hardly wait to go back.  On the way home the sound was so clean and nice, it made apparent how poor the quality of the original speakers.  He could have tried to push these on me, telling me they were necessary, but he wanted me to experience the difference and recognize the value.  The next morning I pull back into The Sound Lab and am greeted by the same manager.  The night before I'd done my speaker and amp research.  Without thinking twice he took me to exactly what I needed for the level of head unit I'd purchased and offered me a price, including installation, which was cheaper than on-line discount prices in the states for the exact same items.  He told me it would take two hours to replace the speakers, tweeters, crossovers, and wires.  It took 2.5 hours.


Toyota Vigo, Sound Lab, Bangkok

Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8  @F4  1/4th  ISO 3200


His workers had to remove my door panels, seats, kick boards, and most of my interior.  I was cringing, a brand new vehicle being torn apart by non-factory trained and backed workers.  I figured I'd have to spend months tracking down the new squeaks and rattles.  I watched them the entire two hours and was astounded with their attention to detail, from the smallest solder joint, to the proper placement and securing of the crossovers.  Each piece they removed to gain access was carefully placed safely out of the way.  When the job was finished they once again tuned the system for the best performance, cleaned the truck, educated the consumer (me) on how to use the product, and once again I was on my way home. 

WOW!  What a difference!  Crisp clean and powerful sound.  The head unit can play movies on it's 7 inch screen, interface with my IPod EXACTLY, and read from my USB powered hard drive 100's of gigs of music.  And then it plays this music through my new speakers brilliantly!  And this was done with no hassle, within the time limited given, at the quoted price, full warranty cards provided, consumer education, and great attitudes.  My new truck was put back together perfectly, no squeaks or rattles, no issues of any kind.  It was clean and print free.  Everything was perfect.


Toyota Vigo, Sound Lab, stereo install

Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8  @F4  1/80th  ISO 100


Head Units, Speakers, and Sub-Woofers Oh My!

On the way home I was enjoying music like before when the obvious came to me.  The head unit was providing such clean sound through these great speakers, yet something was missing.  Yep, there was no bass.  The manager knew I would experience this and ask, or I wouldn't and if I wouldn't, then I didn't need to spend the extra money. 

The next day I pull back into The Sound Lab and the manager greets me with a smile and asked if I came for a sub-woofer.  We both laughed.  He showed me what he recommended and soon his workmen were working on the installation.  This time he explained they'd need to run a very thick gauge power wire directly from the battery and he showed me how they encased this wire in a hard plastic sheath, and then where they fused it to protect my vehicle.  They used the same size/gauge wire to mount the ground wire to the chassis.


Stereo Installation on new Toyota Vigo

Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8  @F5.6  1/20th  ISO 100


Then the most amazing thing happened.  They took 10-15 minutes and listened through my music, noting which type of music I listened to, and then carefully adjusted the five adjustments on the new amplifier to provide the best sound.  The original worker wasn't happy with his work so after 20 minutes of trying he called a more experienced guy who then spend 30 minutes making the adjustments!  Then, they built several custom EQ programs to match my music taste and stored them in memory.  They made these adjustments with the doors both opened and closed.  They cleaned the truck perfectly and returned the keys to me, but only after once again showing me both fused locations (power AND ground), explaining how the entire system worked together, and making sure I had my warranty cards.


Perfection Achieved

Driving home I realized I'd now reached MY point of perfection.  It's not a 2 million baht installation by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great system that plays very clean precise music at any reasonable listening levels.  There are no squeaks and/or rattles.  No fingerprints.  Everything works as it should.  They even showed me how to use the head units rear panel connections to preview images and video on the units 7 inch screen!

But most of all they showed me that it is indeed possible for a Thai owned and managed business to provide the highest levels of customer service, install a highly technical product, and to keep to the quoted installation times and price quotes.  They showed me there is a Thai business out there who really does care about treating their customers properly.  And I'll admit to being a bit ashamed that I find them such an exception.

If I ever do have 2 million baht for a great car stereo system I know for sure the guys at The Sound Lab will be the ones who build it for me.  If you are ever in need of these services I give them my highest recommendation.

Narathip Atthawiroj

The Sound Lab  619  Srinakarin Road

Suanlang, Bangkok 10250

Tel.  0-2951-3721-2

Hours:  0900-1900 Every Day


Until Next Time..