On Tontop of the World

If Charles Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest, i.e. the one who is better at adjusting to the circumstances, is right, it is no wonder that 60 year old Norwegian Trygve Windingstad is alive and well.
Through 22 years in Thailand the busy Norwegian has been involved in business with a huge number of different products. Always able to change business whenever circumstances called for it, so if you are ever asked what products like Christmas cards, Pizza hut boxes and TONTOP soft roll up covers for pick-up trucks have in common, the answer is straight forward. They have all been part of Trygve Windingstad´s business in Thailand.
That the smiling Norwegian is sitting leaned back in a chair in his Samutprakarn office looking at a 2006 calendar was not what he expected when he visited Thailand for the first time in 1984.
He just went to Pattaya for a holiday, but it did not take long before he was back.
“I had just been through a divorce in Norway and needed to try something new. Meet new people and try to live somewhere else for a while. The sun, sand and sea were just what I needed at that time so I moved to Pattaya,” the Norwegian explains.
After one year of holidaying in Pattaya, the Norwegian had had enough of what he calls piger, vin og sang (girls, wine and singing).
“Life in Pattaya was becoming very trivial. Having every day off is just not me. I needed something to do, so I decided to move to Bangkok and start my own business,” he explains.
Trygve Windingstad became an agent exporting lots of different things to Norway. Some of the first articles were Christmas cards and gift tags, which he bought in large quantities, then packed them into smaller units and send them off to Norway.
“Working as an agent I talked to a lot of customers in Norway and always listened to what kind of articles they were looking for. Then I tried to find the products in Thailand and export them. By now I have exported close to a hundred different articles to Norway e.g. T-shirts, gift articles,” he explains before his 16-year old son Tom enters the office on top of the garage to ask him a question.
Constantly adjusting to the wishes of the customers Trygve Windingstad’s export business grew and ended up with a rather large product portfolio, but that was to be expanded even more when some of his American friends approached him in 1993. They wanted to him to provide pizza boxes for pizza giant Pizza Hut.
“That was quite a change from what I was used to with my export business. I usually export rather small quantities with a good profit per item, but Pizza Hut wanted me to deliver half a million boxes per month. Huge quantities but a rather low profit per unit,” he explains.
However, the busy Norwegian took on the job. Started buying bulk quantities of boxes with different suppliers, repacked them just like the Christmas cards to fit the need of every single Pizza Hut restaurant in Thailand.
The business went well for some time, but for Trygve Windingstad´s pizza box business there was one major problem. It relied entirely on one customer.
“Pizza Hut wanted lower prices over and over again and after three years the prices were cut so much that it was hardly worth doing the work, so I stopped supplying pizza boxes in 1996,” he explains.
The good thing, however, was that Trygve Windingstad already in 1995 knew that the pizza box would come to an end a year later. That gave the Norwegian time once more to adjust to the circumstances.
While still supplying pizza boxes Trygve Windingstad was asked to produce and deliver gauntlets to a company Norwegian company producing gloves for the Norwegian fishing industry. Having learned his lesson this time, Trygve Windingstad did not want to rely only on one customer, so instead of producing the gloves him self, he recommended a Norwegian company to establish their own company in Thailand for production and supply. 
The company took the advice, made a production and asked him to run the business for them, which Trygve Windingstad agreed to. He ran the factory till 2004, when the Norwegian company wanted to build a new factory. Now Trygve Windingstad did not have enough room to meet the requirements of the Norwegian company and for that reason they found a new partner.
Facing the end of his time in the gauntlet business, Trygve Windingstad had to find new business. Having bought a pick-up truck he wanted to buy a soft cover for its bed, but they were nowhere to be found.
“I searched high and low, but the only ones that I was able to find were the canopy style types and that was not what I was looking for,” he explains.
After two months fruitless search Trygve Windingstad realized that what he was looking for was to be found nowhere in Thailand. Instead he searched the internet and saw that there was a large selection of soft roll up covers in USA.
One month later he boarded a plane heading for the states.
“I just could not believe that the soft top covers could not be found in Thailand. Thailand is the second biggest pick-up truck marked in the world. Around 500,000 new pick-up trucks are bought every year, but no soft covers. I wanted to change that,” he says with a smile.
In USA he bought a lot of different covers and brought them back to Thailand only to find that the could not be used on Thai pick-up trucks as the bed liner on almost all Thai pick-up trucks differs from their American counterparts.
The money spent on American covers, however, was not wasted. Inspired by the American covers Trygve Windingstad began creating a soft top cover named TONTOP for the Thai pick-ups.
“I could use the basic idea from the American covers, but a lot of adjustments needed to be done to make them usable for Thai pick-up trucks. It took some work and thinking, but it was possible,” he enthusiastically explains.
Trygve Windingstad took out patents on a number of the adjustments, before the official presentation at the 2005 Thai International Motor Expo, but the presentation was not as big a success as the Norwegian had hoped for.
“The thing is that the Thais are very conservative people. This was a completely new product and the Thais simply did not know why they should buy one. It would have been easier if it was a new variant of a product already well-known like a rice cooker or a washing machine,” he explains.
Trygve Windingstad explains that some of the advantages of putting a soft top cover on pick-up trucks are better fuel economy, reduced risk of theft, increased flexibility compared to canopy cover and that your things do not get soaked, when it rains. And one more:
“And this is the most important to the Thais. It makes the pick-up truck look good,” Trygve Windingstad says smilingly.
“My hope for the future is that soft top covers become standard for pick-up trucks just like the bed liner. 77 per cent of all pick-up trucks sold in Thailand are Isuzu, Toyota and Chevrolets, which my covers fit, so the potential is huge,” he explains.
One of Trygve Windingstad´s hopes for the future is increased business, but that is not the only hope, the smiling Norwegian has.
“I hope that one day my son Tom will take over this business. I guess all fathers want their sons to carry on something they have started, but it is too early to tell whether Tom will do that, but I certainly do hope so” he wishes.
And it is not unlikely his dream will come true. Wearing an overall Tom is already working in the garage below Trygve Windingstad’s office.

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