The Millionaire Brick Makers

Chantaburi Province

Several years ago, Nan was a mini-bus driver who lived in a slum surrounded by shrimp farms. He and his wife sometimes made candies and sold them to the kids on their mini-bus. Sometimes they had to skip dinner to make ends meet. It was a tradition among this community of diamond cutters to skip dinner.

“Fasting cleanses out your stomach; it’s good for you,” they told each other. This non-religious fasting among the slum-dwellers continued for years in the famous Chantaburi diamond producing region; the ritual was only to be broken by a heretic name Sompon.

It was Sompon who had approached Nan to form a small saving group so that they could collectively buy food for dinner. Soon they found out that other people were also interested in their joining the dinner club. In a period of several months, the humble saving group - originated at Sompon’s dinner table - grew to cover the entire 220 households.

They had discovered the art of saving money by collectively buying things in bulks. After several years, their saving group had accumulated over 2 million baht in saving; it enabled them to buy a piece of land worth 1,047,000 on their own. And now they are building their new houses on a new land surrounded, again, by shrimp farms.

Today Nan is the chairman of a community cooperative that makes millions per month; and Sompon – the diamond cutter – is now its executive manager. It is officially called the Rung Rueng Patana Cooperative (meaning: the Prosperous Development Cooperative).

The community cooperative is a direct outgrowth of their initial ragtag “dinner table” saving group. Everyone still remains in the community after the move, but there was a little change in the general feel of the community. The people here are a little chubbier – through the frequent intake of dinner – and they no longer work on diamonds. Instead, they are now making cement blocks or “bricks” as they are usually called.

The cooperative is in charge of making these bricks and selling them to prospective customers around the area. It got started because they were trying to find a way to cut down the cost of building their new homes. Sompon, again, came up with the idea of making the bricks themselves. So the community got together and decided to put in 2000 baht per household to buy a brick making machine, a six-wheeler truck, and a small Toyata pickup.

They kick-started their new venture by producing 30,000 bricks all at once; it was an ambitious plan, a great experiment, and a mistake. The virgin bricks turned out to be very brittle. When Nan went to the site and inspected the bricks; he found that he could chip pieces of concrete out from the bricks using his bare fingers.

The bricks were weak because they did not use enough water during the manufacturing process. They were in a rush and were too ambitious to get things done quickly. The first set of bricks was no good; and they were later recycled into other uses. The cooperative realized their mistake and make improvement on the next batch of bricks.

When they finally get the manufacturing process right, it turns out that they could save up to 6,000 baht per house, in addition to their own “free” labor cost. They could produce over 1,470 bricks per day; and soon they find themselves selling them for a profit in the local market. They make an average profit of 12,600 baht per day; and sometimes more. Today, the cooperative net more than a million baht per month in brick making alone.

While they were making the bricks, another venture cropped up unexpectedly. Since they bought the cement in bulks to save cost, they soon discovered that there was a surplus in cement from the brick production. Nan, who was working on his own sewer line, suggested that they should learn to make concrete drainage pipes as well. And they did. Now they could produce 8 rings of 0.40 meter wide and 1 meter long pipe section per day.

The cooperative are producing and selling the bricks every day; their business has become very popular among builders. They have managed to beat their local competitors by doing the work and delivered them faster than everyone else in the market – thanks to the 6 wheeler truck. They have also found a clever way to guard against inflation in raw materials – stockpiling. The cooperative produces bricks everyday and stockpiles them on the site. Today they have about 100,000 bricks in stock; simply sitting and waiting for profit.

All the profit from selling material goes back to the people in the community in one way or the other. For example, 20% of the profit goes directly to the folks in the form of cash. Another 20% goes to the common pool in which the community could later decide what to do with it; 30% goes to the management team, accountants, and other personals; 20% is deposited as risk insurance for the community masons and laborers. The last 10% goes to the various construction team leaders; and there are 28 of them.

As of today, they have completed 100 houses - about half of the total houses (220) planned. The Community Organization Development Institute (CODI) assisted them during the planning stage; sending architects and engineers to look at the site and calculate the cost for each houses.

They are mostly 2-story houses; costing 156,846 baht each. The folks take out a 2% housing loan from CODI which amount to 141,161 per house; they are now paying back at 1,192 baht per month. Their saving group money provides them with 15,685 baht per household. In additional to the typical 2-story houses – and there are 166 of them – several 1 story houses can also be seen propping alongside the 2 story houses like mushrooms. They cost 149,571 baht per house; not a significant saving in construction cost when compared to the 2-story houses.

In terms of construction, everyone in the community initially volunteered their own labor. But as of now, anyone who cares to lend a hand, would get a compensation of 300 baht per day. The cooperative is now paying 2,500 to 3,000 baht per day in labor cost. Not all portions of the houses are built by the community, however. The foundation and concrete piles are done by professional contractors, hired by the cooperative. The clay-tile roofs are purchased from outside sources. The houses’ door and windows - solid teak - are also custom-made and ordered from the province of Chiang Rai. A solid teak door costs only 3,700 baht each when purchased in bulk.

Sompon – the heretic against fasting - is now well-established. But his ever curious mind still searches for ways to save cost and expenditures. Again, he approaches Chairman Nan, who still drives the mini-bus as a “social” hobby, to think of ways to cut all unnecessary expenditures; ranging from food to dish washing soap. They want to create some sort of self-sufficient village where most - if not all - the household needs are produced within the cooperative.

They are now starting to raise ducks, chickens, and grow vegetables on their own. They even produce their own brand - The Rueng Rueng Patana Cooperative - of dish washing liquid soap. Any visitor who comes by the cooperative would be given a dozen of organic eggs and, if they are lucky, a dish of roasted duck. A visitor would also notice a large sign posted on a board across from the public bathroom. It is a set of rules – a “constitution” - in which members of this utopian cooperative must abide by:

RULES FOR LIVING TOGETHER

1.
ONE SHALL NOT TRANSFER HIS TITLE DEED TO OUTSIDERS WITHIN 15 YEARS FROM WHICH HIS HOUSE IS BUILT. SHOULD HE NEED TO DO SO, HE MUST CONSULT ALL OTHER MEMBERS OF THE COOPERATIVE. IF NO MEMBERS OF THE COOPERATIVE WANTS TO PURCHASE HIS HOUSE, THE COOPERATIVE SHALL PURCHASE IT FOR 50% OF THE MARKET VALUE.

2.
MEMBERS SHALL BUILD THEIR HOUSES AT LEAST 1 METER AWAY FROM THEIR PROPERTY LINES.

3.
MEMBERS SHALL NOT BUILD FENCES AROUND THEIR HOUSES EXCEPT IN THE FORM OF TREES.

4.
EVERY HOUSEHOLD SHALL PLANT AT LEAST ONE TREE WITHIN THEIR PROPERTY LINE.

5.
THERE SHALL BE NO PLACES THAT HARBORS VICES IN THE COOPERATIVE.

6.
EVERYONE MUST CLEAN THEIR OWN HOUSE REGULARLY.

7.
DO NOT MAKE LOUD NOISES SO AS TO DISTURB OTHERS. SHOULD ONE WISH TO HOLD A PARTY, THE NOISE LEVEL SHALL BE LOWERED AFTER 11:00 PM.

8.
PETS SHALL BE STRICTLY REGULATED BY THEIR OWNERS. THEY SHALL NOT DISTURB OTHER MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY. NO MORE THAN 2 DOGS ARE ALLOWED PER HOUSEHOLD.

9.
THERE SHALL BE NO DRUGS AND DRUG DEALERS IN THE COOPERATIVE

10.
EVERY HOUSE MUST HAVE THEIR OWN SEWAGE CLARIFIER TANKS. THE SEWAGE WATER MUST PASS THROUGH THE CLEARIFIER TANKS BEFORE GOING INTO THE COMMUNAL WATER TREATMENT BASIN.

11.
CARS SHALL BE PARKED INSIDE THE PROPERTY LINE OF THE HOUSE. CARS SHALL NOT BE PARKED ON PUBLIC DRIVEWAY EXCEPT ON A TEMPORARY BASIS.

12.
ANY CHANGES TO THE ABOVE RULES MUST BE UNAIMOUSLY APPROVED BY THE COOPERATIVE COMMITTEE AND MAKE KNOWN TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE COOPERATIVE.