A recent trip to Thailand showed us that entrepreneurship can be found everywhere. In Phuket, 14 years after a tsunami devastated and wrecked the headland and villages, life has moved on and the beach is now a home for budding local entrepreneurs. The owners of pop-up refreshment stalls, sunbed providers and restaurants do not need much to get started, however, they run their business in such an impressive way that many large businesses could learn business lessons.
Here are some of our observations from chatting and using the “facilities”:
- Keeping it legal
Every stall holder has their own territory on the beach. There is no crossing of the territory between owners, they all understand who looks after which bit of the beach. There doesn’t seem to be a requirement to have a formal lease, however, there are agreements in place with the land owners, police and army who visit often. In the same way that Companies in the UAE are open to ministry visits, here the stall owners all must show to the Government officials that they are following all the requirements laid down, including food safety, or face closure.
- Know your target market
It’s easy to work out on a beach who your main target market is, tourists. What do your customers really want from their experience with you? What are they likely to ask for during the day resting on the beach? We literally saw a small refreshment stand scale over our 2 weeks in Thailand. They started with a small stall, this doubled in size with the delivery of their new stall (see accompanying picture). Then the menu for drinking refreshments grew, cocktails were added to take advantage for the sunset admirers. Just as we were leaving, they added a food delivery menu so that their customers didn’t need to leave them at lunchtime, they negotiated an arrangement with a restaurant close by to order and delivery food on request which they brought to your sunbed!
- Sales Manager needed to outsell the Competition
Competition is indeed extreme, how are your customers going to choose from one sunbed provider to the next? Having an excellent “Sales Manager” out front, being the face of your company whilst at the same time providing excellent customer service is the main differentiator from the other competition. The best “Salesman” spoke excellent English, recognised you from the last time you were there and would have the bed ready for you before you even got to their part of the beach. To add one last additional service, they would adjust the umbrella over slumbering Customers so that they are protected from the sun during the day, stopping potential sunburn which would mean their customers may not be able to come back the next day – how that for customer service!
- Location is key
Being in the right spot on the beach for the evening sunset or morning sunrise is very important and this is a huge selling point. Being aware of the tides and how a high tide can affect customer pass by is also important as depending where you are on the beach, your area may be cut off at certain times of the month due to high tide, which will restrict clients getting to you, affecting the sales cycle.
- Understand market conditions
There are high and low seasons for most businesses and as a business owner you need to be aware of these and make sure you staff and buy supplies according to seasonal sales forecast. For the Phuket beach owners, out of season they need to be aware of the rainy season and provide solutions for their guests should a sudden rain storm hit the beach. Many stalls have room under roof for them to hustle their lounging clients in for shelter during short rain showers, providing them with food and drink solutions, so that they stay with them when the showers stop and the sun comes out.
- Corporate social responsibility
Keeping your “house” clean is part of their unique selling point. Keeping the beach clean not only makes their stall and beach sunbeds look better, it also giving back to Thailand and the environment. As potentially part of the problem of waste on the beach, making sure they clean up after themselves and also keep the area in front of their stall clean leads to Thailand staying clean attracting more people to their island – a win-win all round.
- Keep an eye on costs
Staff costs appear to be very low for these stall owners. They tend to live very close to the stalls and are family run. They all tend to work very long days with the attitude that they can only make a living if someone is there to provide their customers with a service regardless of the time of day.
- WIFI on the beach!
When I recently visited the UK, I struggled to find free WIFI, in Phuket, stall owners have WIFI set up for their customers! They recognise that most of their customers are away from home and that the world has moved on at such a pace that most carry smartphones and would like to update family of how they are doing. Providing free WIFI allows this, and even the smallest of stalls seemed to provide their customers with free access.
At the end of the day, you need to have fun, and they certainly seemed to have this in bucket (and spades) full.