Transitioning family business and work values from father to daughter
though hand-crafted brooms and brushes
Baanboon is a brand of Thai brooms hand-groomed for an international look. It is an extension of a 35-year-old family business called Somboonphon Craft, which makes and exports sorghum brooms. Baanboon, which has just recently started
to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, is now run by second generation family member, Booranita Wiwatthanakul, or Toon.
The brooms take off
Toon grew up surrounded by sorghum brooms. In the beginning, the business was managed by her father and involved supplying and exporting sorghum from Chiangrai to customers in Taiwan, but in time her father’s never-ending creativity led him to start making brooms using sorghum. From simple sorghum brooms these evolved into more sophisticated ones ready for an international market. The finest quality and creativity of Baanboon’s brooms and brushes were eventually guaranteed by the Seal of Excellence for Handicrafts 2007 South-East Asia Program from UNESCO together with AHPADA. The award not only marked global recognition but also created such overwhelming demand in global markets that their products were in short supply in the domestic market. Toon suggested that this might be why Thais are not so familiar with such stylish brooms and brushes in their households.
Although she was the eldest child in the family, Toon chose to pursue her education in a field that had nothing to do with
her family business, allowing herself to explore and experience the world before returning home to help with the family business. Fortunately, her mother is a professor and understood that one main benefit of higher education at university level is that
it helps shape one’s logical and thinking abilities regardless of the field of study chosen. Undoubtedly, her family is very open about their children’s educational interests and choices, understanding that it is important that children remain eager to learn while gaining practical knowledge. When the right time came, Toon returned to her family business. Initially, she started with production management while her brother was responsible for customer services and export documentation. Her sister, meanwhile, helped her father work in managing their Facebook page, “Boon’s”, which focuses on exporting wooden furniture.
Covid and Its Impacts
Toon said that she had been working only a year for her dad’s business when the pandemic started. Although this was only a short time, it was enough to let her see the big picture regarding the business and problems related to it. She had started to work on them when Covid-19 struck, impacting everyone. Sales dropped by 25–30 percent and orders slowed as everyone became cautious. This was a perfect time to rebuild Baanboon, she thought.
“Baanboon got its name from my Dad and his children. We all have the word “Boon” in our names. Two years before I joined, my dad was already working on Baanboon by himself. He started small by placing his products at stores near his house in Bangkok. The products had nothing fancy beyond a simple sticker and packaging, and he did no advertising. With the pandemic came the lockdown, making travel to the factory impossible. We wondered what we should do with all the brooms that had become overstocked. A friend from Woot Woot Store said we could place our brooms in their shops, so, we put a few there. One day, the editor of the famous A Day magazine took one home, and the following day an article about our broom appeared in the magazine. That’s how the word about Baan Boon got out, and within a month we had sold our entire stock,” Toon said.
“Baanboon’s brooms and brushes are so much more than their beautiful colors and appearance.
They are a work of craft reflecting a long-standing heritage of know-how. Profound skills and expertise
are required to create handmade brooms. Artisans must undergo years of practice before being able
to exhibit their sewing, weaving and tying skills."
Toon recalled that her father had designed more than 1,000 types of broom from traditional ones so loved by Japanese customers to brooms that incorporate company identity. Baanboon’s brooms and brushes strictly follow existing manufacturing procedures while also adapting to customers’ wants and needs. Expos and fairs exposed them to customers’ desires for a range with different colors, resulting in Baanbroom creating colored brooms from as many as 15 natural dyes. The mood and tone of Baanboon’s unique broom designs have been adapted to customer preferences, making their brooms practical and useful.
“Baanboon’s brooms and brushes are so much more than their beautiful colors and appearance. They are a work of craft reflecting a long-standing heritage of know-how. Profound skills and expertise are required to create handmade brooms. Artisans must undergo years of practice before being able to exhibit their sewing, weaving and tying skills. Our brooms and brushes are not just practical household objects. Elegantly groomed, they combine beauty and function and can be proudly displayed in any corner of the house. It is amazing to see how our brooms have come to be regarded as both showpieces and useful tools,” Toon said.
Based on the principle of the circular economy, Baanboon’s brooms are manufactured from the scrap remaining from exported goods. These left-over materials are recycled into function-oriented products with distinctive designs that are targeted at different groups of customers to avoid any clashes in marketing and sales. Since Baanboon’s production capacity accounts for only three percent of the overall capacity of the factory, it mainly focuses on the retail market. As a result, product quantities are limited. Once a design is sold out, depending on demands on the production line and availability of materials, it may no longer
Eight Artisans & a Broom
“Almost all of our staff are from the local community and have been together for a long time,” Toon said. “Some have been with us since before I was born, even helping look after me when I was little, so they are like family to me. Our family vibe carries into the working place, where everyone feels as if we are working in a cozy workshop rather than in an industrial facility.”
Toon talked of problems caused by external factors like issues with raw materials, the weather, costs, the pandemic, war and so forth. In her opinion, however, the biggest challenge is that in a family business like theirs conflicting opinions and ideas can be quite common. She stresses the importance of being willing to compromise and find middle ground, adjusting to differences that may occur. Good communication is key for Toon, who says that in the end everybody shares a common goal to produce and deliver only the best.
“Our organization has inherited tradition and know-how. My Dad began by inviting an expert from abroad to provide training and help improve products. That knowledge has been passed on from his generation to ours.”
One may not realize that there are at least eight experts involved in the craft of broom making. It begins by sorting sorghum into the right length and thickness for each type of broom, then dyeing and drying it before sewing it to the handle. The final steps involve decoration, trimming and packaging.
Baanboon Sweeping Online Platforms
“Baanboon is a bit like a comfort zone my parents should not enter. I am entirely responsible for managing it. Some time ago, when were invited for an interview on a show, my parents realized they had little idea what I was doing with Baanboon since everything was being done online. They were even surprised at the prices, but taking all the costs into account, there was no way they could be lower. I started selling on Facebook and Instagram because they are easy to access and widely used. 90 percent
of our customers are Thai, while the rest are foreigners. Most of our foreign customers are Japanese, perhaps because they spread our reputation by word-of-mouth.”
Craft is the Heart of Baanboon
"What makes Baanboon products interesting and attractive are the imperfections that reflect
the uniqueness of each hand-crafted broom. No broom is totally alike."
“Rather than notions of perfection, we want to convey the sense of “craft” as a key message to our customers. We focus much more on craftmanship that mirrors being humane and genuine, being sincere to our customers. For example, if we fall short of materials or cannot keep up with orders, we tell our customers and help them understand why this is so. In return they seem prepared to wait patiently until we are ready. Most of our ideas these days stem from feedback given by customers, many of whom are regulars. Some even collect our brooms for the love of their variety of colors. We believe in our products and in what we do. Customers naturally feel this too without our having to bombard them with promotional campaigns. They want Baanboon brooms in their households because they know they are good.”
“Without Craft, There is no Baanboon,”
This is the motto Toon grew up with and which continues to shape her attitude at work. According to Toon, the appeal of
a craft is that it requires painstaking patience, a thorough understanding of materials and crafting processes, and the passion to do it. Toon believes that northern artisans are perfect for this type of craft since they are known to be quite patient. Aside from this, the cooler climate is also favorable for manufacturing brooms, making the northern region just the right place for making Baanboon’s brooms.
“I have always said that there will be no comparing our brooms with others. We do not claim that our products are the best. Like with food, it all comes down to preferences. Whatever your choices or preferences are, we respect them all. But we would like to ask that you give this sorghum broom of ours a try. You will see they are made of simple materials, which is why they are more common than millet brooms. Different as each broom may be, however, they all serve the same purpose and should be equally good at doing that. It just depends on what kind of broom you choose to use.”