Eric Jupp's enthusiasm for the scrap metal business borders on the obsessive. Looking around the larger of his two showrooms in Ban Tawai it's easy to see why. Every inch of floor space is taken up by works of art, created entirely from automotive spare parts. Sci-Fi is the dominant theme, from the two meter high model of Predator guarding the main door, to those of Alien, C3PO,R2D2 and many more scattered around the showroom. A life-sized model of "Arnie" holds pride of place close to the entrance, and I have to say that this scrap metal robot has more life in it than the current Governor of California.
There are two large horses awaiting shipment to a ranch in Australia, a Bell Huey helicopter ready for collection by a pilot who flew the real thing during the Vietnam war, kangaroos, motorcycles, submarines, tanks and even a large basket of tropical flowers all created from old car components.
I walk through the portals of Noi's Place, named after Eric's lovely wife and business partner, and like all first time visitors, I'm gobsmacked. The questions tumble over one another who would buy where did you how much does what is that? Eric is clearly accustomed to this reaction, and he sits me down and pours me a cup of coffee.
It transpires that Eric used to travel the length and breadth of Thailand working as a buyer for a Swedish gardening company. Having ordered ceramic pots from a kiln in some Southern village, Eric arrived to find they still had to be packed. The heat was oppressive and he went in search of a cold drink. What he found was his future.
Most entrepreneurs will tell you of a defining moment that changed their lives forever; Eric is no different. He bought a Coke at a village shop and spotted some small robots made from scrap metal and automotive spare parts. The shopkeeper said they'd been made by her brother, who was the village mechanic. Eric sought him out, and to the astonishment of this rural engineer, Eric bought on the spot, his entire range. "I just knew that I could move these amazing works of art," he told me.
At this time, Noi had a couple of fairly successful shops in Chiang Mai, selling wood carvings and locally made objects d'art. She balked at the idea of having scrap metal robots in her shops, but Eric's enthusiasm won her round.
Soon after, the couple opened their first showroom in Ban Tawai, hired an artistic work force comprising hill tribe people and Burmese artisans, and Noi's Place went ballistic. They now have order books that Daimler-Chrysler would be proud of, and have plans to expand from their present one thousand square foot factory to a massive Ban Tawai based production house adjacent to their showrooms.
Eric's business ethic is simple: "Treat your customers and your work force like family, and you can't go wrong". "If someone comes into our shop and asks us to make something completely outlandish, as long as they have the money, we have the talent and the time", he says.
That somebody arrived on Noi's doorstep in the form of a Saudi millionaire. The gentleman asked Eric to create a model of an entire oil refinery in scrap metal. Noi's people are working on this project, even as we go to print. Another middle eastern gentleman placed orders for F16 and Tornado fighter jets, each weighing upwards of half a ton!. Eric admits to being a wholesaler, who works on volume for a small profit margin. However, he's not averse to catering to the needs of that one-off customer, the tourist.
As I downed my coffee, the hiss of air brakes heralded the arrival of a tour bus. Shortly thereafter came a trickle of ashen faced aliens sporting football tops, knee-length shorts and trainers. One, who was incontestably Liverpudlian, asked "You alright then gaffer, or wha.?" The final consonant of the pronoun fell to the showroom floor to merge with the automotive spare parts. "Is it all life-sized gear, or can I buy a little space jobby for our kid, like", asked the alien.
"You visualize it, you can buy it", said Eric.
"Innovation and diversification are the bywords, my friend", says Eric. "Competitors may copy our products, but they can never match our foresight and customer service".
"What about scrap metal models of football icons?" I ask.
Eric smiles knowingly, and, turning to his top designer says, "Bend it like Beckham eh?" And I'm left with the vision of life-sized creations in scrap metal of football heroes appearing outside the hallowed grounds of Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
And the hits just keep on coming.
You can find Noi's place by driving to the traffic lights at the intersection of Haang Dong Road and Ban Tawai road. Take a left turn and drive about one kilometer from the lights. On your left hand side is a sign : "Noi's Place" Enjoy!
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