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Located in Prachinburi Province, Thailand, Picotee International Co. Ltd. has routinely purchased North American hardwoods, such as Red Oak (pictured), in its many furniture products.
Thai Firm Seeks North American Hardwoods

By Michael Buckley

Prachinburi Province, Thailand–150 kilometers East Nor’east of Bangkok is the 16-year-old furniture manufacturing plant of Picotee, a family business managed by two brothers and always run on Rubberwood as the raw material, but is now poised for change. The company from its inception has been a major supplier to the U.S. market with home living and home office ranges, in designs largely dictated by its U.S. buyers. But times they are a-changing and North American hardwoods plays a significant role in this change.

It would be fair to say that Paiboon Pinikanchanapun, president of the company, is passionate about wood, having worked at least the last 40 years in the industry. He is also an enthusiastic planter of trees – 16,000 Agar and Rubberwood trees to be precise – around this extensive furniture plant in Prachinburi Province. This is a highly fertile region where agriculture, rice and tapioca, competes with tree farming and these days fast growing Eucalyptus for paper has the upper hand.

Picotee has found Red Oak a good match for its production needs and this year plans to source other species to be used instead of Rubberwood. Tulipwood is one North American hardwood deemed a possible replacement species in the firm‘s products.
There is, or was, plenty of Rubberwood throughout Thailand, but domestic demand and exports to China have driven the local price up from about $220/m3 two years ago to the equivalent of $390/m3 today. So Picotee’s poised for a species change and hardwoods from as far as Australia and the U.S.A. could be poised to fill that role. The latter is not new to the company, which has been using American Red Oak veneer since it commenced operations and still uses significant quantities laminated on locally made particle board.

This year, Paiboon’s brother, Pichai, travels the U.S.A. to investigate sourcing. Tulipwood looks to be a suitable substitute for Rubberwood, especially as the company is able to utilize short pieces in most of its furniture and has a high capacity optimizing line – necessary for Rubberwood. It also oil stains much of its production and so a species is needed that will take stain easily. As the accompanying photos show, this is a company with high labor content, using manual work from a skilled workforce. The firm set up a training center as one of its many personnel facilities although it admits to having great difficulty in recruiting instructors – another consequence of Thailand’s rapid industrialization.

Panels of Red Oak veneer are stacked and ready for use at Picotee’s plants.
But like many producers in Asia these days, Picotee’s problem lies more with labor, which seems as hard to retain as it is in neighboring Malaysia. In this dynamic region workers are easily lured away to other, often cleaner and more comfortable, industries. So departing from an all-Thai work force that supports up to 1000 in the local community, Picotee is now building accommodations for new Laotian workers beginning to arrive in groups of 50.

Furniture design, now a big issue in Southeast Asia, is also at the heart of Picotee’s new direction with outside designers working from Spain and the U.S.A. on new models to enable the company to diversify its marketing. This includes attacking its own domestic market for the first time. Already, a trial outlet has been opened in Bangkok as interest in lifestyle develops among Thailand’s burgeoning middle class and young upwardly mobile population.

One leading lifestyle magazine, “Daybeds”, alone has grown from 5,000 to 100,000 circulation in seven years. Meanwhile Picotee’s young marketing manager is trying all angles.

The economic financial crisis of 2009 has been tough on Picotee. Whereas many producers in Southeast Asia have diversified export markets and many have benefitted from the dynamic growth of Asia domestic markets, “We have been loyal to our U.S. buyers,” said Pinitkanchanapan. “As they have grown, so we have with them. But the current state of the U.S. market will either force us to diversify away or at least develop new products so that we can offer a wider range.”

Throughout the Picotee manufacturing plant is evidence of control standards and testing. Precise and accurate machining is required.
Today the company is running under capacity. Nor is this a new situation for a Rubberwood-based company. Many in the region have worked with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) in its Southeast Asian promotion program to understand the advantages of upgrading to higher value species, which attract international  buyers. Indeed both brothers were recently at a hardwood design camp and AHEC/NHLA grading seminar in Bangkok jointly funded by AHEC and the Thai Furniture Industries Association (TFA) of which Paiboon Pinikanchanapun is president.

Currently the Thai Baht currency is gaining strength against the U.S. Dollar, not only due to the latter’s weakness, but also being within a basket of Asian currencies that appear to be moving upwards together on the strength of the region’s fast economic recovery and despite Thailand’s recent political problems. For more information on this company, go online to www.picotee.co.th.

Picotee’s market is in the furniture range and offers highly competitive products, mainly flat packed and generally small in scale with very little unstained. So this will enable the company to consider competitive grades of American hardwood while seeking to overcome all the issues of currency, lower market demand and generally higher cost raw material.

The company is ISO:9001 2008 certifed by SGS, and that certification has been held since 2001. Pictured is an employee in Picotee‘s fingerjointing operations.
Throughout the plant there is evidence of control standards and testing. The company is ISO:9001 2008 certified by SGS and proud of the fact that it dates back to 2001. In the long term, Paiboon Pinikanchanapun is confident that Thailand can maintain its competitive position as a furniture producer despite some fears about the growth of mass production in nearby Vietnam and of course from China. But his hope is that Thailand’s production units, which are mainly smaller than in neighboring countries, will find a way towards bulk buying of American hardwood lumber, for he believes that is the way forward for his industry to reduce reliance on Rubberwood. Added to that is the company’s hope that American hardwood exporters will pay particular attention to thickness accuracy requirements to which Rubberwood buyers in Thailand are accustomed.

For more information on this company, go online to www.picotee.co.th.


Small furniture hardwood items are prepared for staining at Picotee.
Picotee‘s products require signifcant hands-on craftsmanship, such as hand staining small components of each item, as pictured.

Picotee is a firm with high labor content, using manual work from a skilled workforce.

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