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The balance magazine/
Customer Stories

An immigrant entrepreneur brand builds on being authentic and people-first

Youth Thamwong is a serial entrepreneur who’s built all of his businesses around putting the customer experience first. With his latest venture, Sabai Thai Massage and Wellness, he’s turning his knack for people into a vertically integrated health and wellness brand.
An immigrant entrepreneur brand builds on being authentic and people-first
March 22, 2022

Youth Thamwong has been an entrepreneur almost his entire life. At age 16 he started a tour company in his native Thailand that he operated for five years. Upon arriving in Canada, Youth opened a Thai restaurant in his new home of Edmonton — a challenging three-year experience that taught him some hard lessons. Of his latest venture, Sabai Thai Massage and Wellness, Youth says it culminates all his years of experience as an entrepreneur. 

Running a tour company, a restaurant, and his five-year-old Thai massage clinic in Edmonton all seem on the surface like very different types of business. But for the 55-year-old Youth there’s one clear common denominator — they’re all people-first businesses in which client experience and trust comes first and foremost. 

“My strength is I’m a people person,” he says, “I understand people. That's why all my businesses are about serving and interacting with people.”

Ultimately every business decision Youth makes is considered from the perspective of the customer, and how their experience can be made better. It’s why when customers message Sabai Thai Massage and Wellness on Facebook, they immediately receive an automated reply answering their questions. It’s why staff training is such a priority, so he can best ensure even already accredited therapists are providing a service in keeping with his standards and wellness philosophy. It’s also why he’s so dedicated to keeping his staff happy, by offering bonuses, daily lunches, and celebrations for special events. Sabai Thai Massage currently employs 13 staff members, a number that’s always growing. 

“My wife has 10 years of training as a massage therapist in Thailand — I just manage behind the scenes, she’s the one there always keeping it going. She’s the one teaching the new massage therapists how to do authentic Thai massage. We give them a skillset and customers notice. They’re always telling us we’re not the same as other places, that we’re authentic. We always want to keep the customer happy.” 

After a year of opening and closing due to government restrictions, in 2021 the business was still growing fast enough for Youth to double the size of his physical retail space. He attributes much of the growth to his prioritizing of social media marketing campaigns, which Youth outsources to a company in Bangkok. He is acutely aware of how much time customers spend on social media. Every month, he offers various promotions to new customers, most of whom find Sabai Thai Massage through word of mouth or on Facebook and Instagram.

In the first six months since launching his more aggressive social media strategy revenue increased by $75,000, and 70 new customers were added in one month alone.

As someone who firmly believes in taking an expansive, wide angle view of his business, Youth sees an opportunity for further, more exponential growth in offering Sabai-branded personal wellness products, such as pillowcases, Thai herbs, and balms.

“When I originally wrote the business plan,” he says, “the plan was always to eventually carry our own products. That’s now our next goal, to extend our brand into providing personalized wellness products, like oils, creams, and herbs.”

After that, Youth adds, the goal is to open Sabai’s own Thai massage school — the reason why he and his wife are currently on an extended visit to Thailand, so they can do more research and planning. “I always wanted this business to be integrated, both for the purposes of efficiency and creating a recognizable brand in the industry. It can be hard retaining staff, so I want to be able to train my own people properly in authentic Thai massage. Whether it’s always knowing I have my own staff on hand or having product inventory I can sell online or to other massage clinics, all are part of having our own signature and brand.”

Youth’s business ethos revolves around making decisions; as an owner, you have to be active, constantly making choices that move your business forward. Sometimes a bad decision is better than no decision at all, according to Youth, if you can learn something from it.

There will never be an exactly right time to do something like start a business or launch a new brand extension. It just comes down to making the best decision and taking the risk, or else businesses would never open their doors.

“That's how Driven helps me run a business. You cannot wait for the perfect time, or when you have all the savings, to do something. When l borrow money, it’s a debt. I understand that, but it's good debt. Driven creates cash to fund my business right away so I can seize my opportunities. Without Driven, I was so stressed out. The money I borrow from Driven I see as an investment in growing my business.”

Taking a more active approach to making decisions also means more independence — something Youth values highly. “It forces you to think for yourself and do what you think is right for you.” 

As a token of Driven’s thanks for agreeing to tell his story, we asked Youth to name a fellow local business he would like to support — he chose Edmonton restaurant Japonais Bistro, where Youth will enjoy a meal compliments of Driven. Like many entrepreneurs, we see the value in paying forward success, and bringing the hustle back to their communities one small business at a time.

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