Samui Wining & Dining
A Day in the Life of …

Michael Wölfl, the busy Sales Manager of European Fine Foods.

 

16The mornings on Samui are usually fresh, cool and bright. Fishermen and market workers have been busy since before dawn. Hotel staff have been in place for a while. And by around 7:30 am the roads are bustling with children on their way to school. It’s a refreshing time of day but it’s not just the schools that are busy. Restaurants are preparing breakfasts and the big supermarkets are opening their doors. And somewhere in the midst of all this, on the way to work from his home in Lamai, you’ll find Michael Wölfl.

 

Michael is the Sales Manager for European Fine Foods (EFF) in Chaweng, on the ring-road just a few dozen metres north of Tesco-Lotus, located in the new shopping plaza where you’ll see Wine Connection prominently situated at the entrance. The shop opens at 9:00 am, which is when the rest of the staff arrive. But Michael makes sure he’s there at 8:00 am as there’s much to do and he enjoys a quiet coffee as he gets into the swing of a new day.

 

EFF is a very positive reflection on the way the island has been changing over the last few years. Although, if you needed any convincing, you’d only need to count how many top restaurants there are now. And restaurants need food. Not just the fresh produce each day from the markets but quality imported foodstuffs that are hard to find. Well, they used to be! But in the last four or five years the competition amongst importers and suppliers has been growing. And it’s a measure of its quality and service that EFF is flourishing in the face of this.

 

The company started trading in the latter part of 2009, with offices in Bangkok and Hong Kong. The Samui shop came along two months later and, right away, made a splash by directly importing most of the top German brands – if not all of them! Meats and sausages from Meica, pickles and relishes from Kühne, dairy products from Mövenpick, organic breads from Mestemacher (if you’re German or Austrian, Bavarian or Swiss) then you’ll be nodding already). But in the last year the added range of imported beef has been much in demand, with Australian beef tenderloin and sirloin running alongside the Wagyu from Japan. But the EFF shop is more than just an outlet, it’s a café / coffee shop too, with tables and seats outside. And it’s this entire busy environment that Michael manages whilst the owner and Managing Director, Guido Heynan, is away on sales trips or meetings. And that’s usually between 10 and 14 days each month.

 

The first thing that Michael does (after making coffee, that is) is to collect the orders that have come in overnight. These are always in the form of faxes, making both the accounting and the later deliveries easy to manage. The accountant enters the orders into the ledger and Michael used the ‘flimsies’ to select what’s been ordered when he goes out on his delivery round before lunch. There are also emails to sift through, most in the form or enquiries rather than orders, and all this gets handled before the shop staff arrive at 9:00 am.

 

Discreetly out of sight, away in the far corner of the car park, is a huge refrigerated container. This is where the bulk of the shop items are stored until needed. And Michael’s next task is to tour the shelves and fridges in the shop, noting what’s been depleted the day before. Duly recorded, it then takes a little while, back and forth to the container, replenishing the shelves and filling the gaps. The big variation on this routine happens every Tuesday. This is when the contents of the actual storage container itself need to be reviewed. And then the order goes off to Bangkok to be included in the weekly deliveries which arrive, and are logged-in by Michael, each Saturday.

 

But European Fine Foods doesn’t just keep the restaurants happy. There are also contracts in place with Tesco-Lotus, Big C and Tops Supermarket, and Michael collects his orders and sets about his deliveries in the late part of the morning. But first he sits down for a moment with a pen and plots a quick and sweeping route which will place him either back at the shop or at a favourite restaurant by noon: everyone on the island seems to take their lunch at this time, too!

 

Michael’s also found that a significant number of chefs fax their orders in during the late afternoon (obviously when they do a quick kitchen-check after the lunch session they find gaps in their stock). So he puts aside time for another run between 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm. And in the interim he becomes an ambassador, touring around some of the existing customers and scheduling appointments with potential new ones. He makes a point of regularly keeping in contact with all his clients. “One of the reasons for our success,” he told me, “is that we have gained a reputation for being close-to-hand. Even when a customer hasn’t made an order I’ll still pop in for a drink and a chat. And it’s also a chance to promote new lines. But it’s not all work. Every week I meet up with a bunch of chefs and F&B guys in Chaweng for our night out. Nothing hectic, but I’ve made some good friends since I’ve been here!

 

And not all of Michael’s work is sales and promotion. Guido Heynan is sometimes away for weeks at a time, and then it’s up to Michael to take the initiative: The refrigerated delivery van might need servicing. The air-conditioning in the shop may have a malfunction. The accounting computer might be playing up. But whatever the problems, Michael takes it all in his stride, keeping Guido informed and up-to-date with daily telephone reports.

 

Samui has its seasons; some busier than others. The most hectic is the period around Christmas and the New Year, but this is also followed by several more months of high hotel occupancy. This is the period when Michael abandons all pretence of regular hours and just does what needs to be done until it’s over, sometimes not getting home until 10:00 pm. And that can be seven days a week. But when it’s quieter, then he’s usually off home at 6:00 pm, six days a week, leaving his staff to take care of the shop sales and the café until closing time at 9:00 pm.

 

It’s hardly surprising that EFF has plans to expand; a wider range of goods and more outlets in Phuket, and Krabi, too. When people are onto a good thing they like to stay with it. As Michael put it, “When there’s a quality product and a highly personal service then it not only attracts new customers but keeps them.

 

Rob De Wet

 


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