This Doctor Turned $15,000 Into a $1.6 Billion Beauty Empire

Updated on
  • Thai firm Beauty Community outperformed majors such as L’Oreal
  • Aberdeen Asset Management says stock is expensive after surge

Thai entrepreneur Suwin Kraibhubes set up Beauty Community Pcl with his last 500,000 baht ($15,000) after the Asian financial crisis. Two decades on, the company’s shares are the top-performers globally among cosmetics providers.

The Bangkok-based firm plans to tap China’s $4.3 billion beauty sector for the next leg of expansion, after building a network of more than 300 retail outlets in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. Sales growth will be vital for a stock that Aberdeen Asset Management describes as expensive.

Suwin Kraibhubes

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

"Chinese customers like our products because of their quality and affordable prices," Suwin, 49, said in an interview Tuesday. "We’re focusing first on online sales through wholesalers to build brand awareness there."

Beauty Community has delivered a total return of over 1,100 percent since listing on the Thai exchange in December 2012, at least three times more than better-known rivals such as L’Oreal SA and Shiseido Co. The company’s sub-$10 lipsticks and creams are targeted at the middle class as well as tourist demand, including the nine million Chinese who visit Thailand each year.

"We focus on mid-end customers because they’re the biggest group of people," said Suwin, who trained as a doctor before becoming an entrepreneur. "The high-end segment is small and very competitive."

The firm’s total return since listing is the highest in the world among cosmetics companies with a market capitalization of at least $1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

A Beauty Buffet store in Bangkok.

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Sales growth averaged more than 30 percent annually in the past five years, reaching 2.5 billion baht in 2016. Net income jumped 63 percent to 656 million baht last year compared with 2015. 

Suwin said he’s targeting a yearly increase of at least 20 percent in both revenue and profit for the foreseeable future. The stock’s valuation of about 42 times blended forward 12-month earnings is the highest in the 22-member Stock Exchange of Thailand Commerce Index, adding pressure to expand sales.

"At the current valuation, the stock, like many other commerce stocks, is very expensive," said Adithep Vanabriksha, chief investment officer at the Thai unit of Aberdeen Asset Management Co. "There’s concern that sales growth may fail to meet the most bullish expectations."

In mainland China, Beauty Community sells through online channels including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall platform. The country’s beauty market is forecast to grow at an average of 9 percent a year until 2020, outpacing the 5 percent expansion expected in Thailand, according to Euromonitor.

"For overseas, China is where the growth will come from," said Chaiyatorn Sricharoen, an analyst at Bualuang Securities Pcl in Bangkok, who rates the shares a buy.

The company and its partners plan to open at least 10 standalone shops annually in Asian countries outside of Thailand. About 13 percent of sales stemmed from overseas in the first half, up from none in 2012, and Suwin expects the foreign proportion to climb over the the next three years.

Beauty Community is the ninth biggest company in Thailand’s cosmetics industry, with a 3.1 percent share of a fragmented market, according to Euromonitor. L’Oreal leads, with 12 percent, followed by direct sales company Better Way (Thailand) Co. and Estee Lauder Cos.

The firm aims to have 450 shops domestically in the next three years, under brands such as Beauty Cottage and Beauty Buffet. Retailers in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy are also hopeful of a revival in consumer spending, following the end of a yearlong mourning period for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"Consumption per head in Thailand is still low for cosmetics," Chaiyatorn said.

A Beauty Cottage store in Bangkok.

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Suwin and his wife Tanyapon Kraibhubes have a combined 26 percent stake in Beauty Community worth roughly $420 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company’s market capitalization is $1.6 billion.

Suwin remains convinced of the potential for his industry to deliver even more wealth.

“Women are willing to pay, no matter what, to look good,” he said.

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