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Eureka: Business common sense
by Joseph Gatt
2018-05-16 05:54:05
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You can read about business success all you want in the press, and perhaps try to emulate the success. A French bakery in South Korea, an Uzbek restaurant in the United States, an American micro brewery in France and a British language school in Algeria. Four businesses that failed, and I'll explain why they failed.

busyn00001_400-The French bakery in South Korea. You're in a small French town or in the French countryside. Breakfast wouldn't be breakfast without croissant, pasteries and milk coffee. It would just be inconceivable for people to have rice, fish, quail eggs, eggs or seaweed soup for breakfast. So a couple of highly educated French guys, educated in the country's finest business school, went to South Korea trying to recreate a piece of France while being exchange students. Gyeonggi-do is referred to as “La Banlieu” and you go have walks with your Korean girlfriend on the Han River, something real Koreans never really do. You go to Paris Baguette or Tous Les Jours to get your daily fix of breakfast croissant and pastries, and surprise! They're not sweet enough! It's almost like there's no butter in there! It's bland. So despite your elite, prestigious education, you still believe that 50 million Koreans have croissant, pastries and milk coffee for breakfast. You wound't imagine for a second that they're having rice for breakfast.

That French couple of guys did not study how Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours, two local bakery chains, run their business. Korean bakeries bake about a dozen baguettes, that sell out in most cases, mostly bought by foreign clients. They then bake about 5 croissant, 5 of each pastries, a dozen sandwiches, which tend to sell out because someone somewhere has a craving of croissant or pastries. And, the glory item, about 20 very carefully baked birthday cakes on display so everyone can see them. Birthday cakes are the bread and butter of Korean bakeries, and the main reason Koreans go to bakeries in the first place. Koreans have cake to celebrate birthdays, milestones or victories. Cakes must be carefully baked, mostly vanilla with white icing on top. Children's cakes are a local favorite, and are decorated with cars or pricesses to celebrate a child's birthday or milestone.

Now these French guys were baking dozens of croissant, pastries and baguettes, thinking that they were still in some old French town. They didn't bother with birthday cakes, the bread and butter of all Korean bakeries. They didn't bother with sandwiches either, when a lot of Koreans will have a sandwich rather than bother cooking lunch. The problem is Koreans did not change their habits just to please those French bakers, and did not start breakfasting on croissant and pastries. A few months later, the bakery was gone.

The Uzbek restaurant in the United States. I talked to the owner, mixing Turkish with English and a few Uzbek words here and there. A very kind guy, obsessed with Islamic values. No alcohol in the restaurant, all dishes are hallal, and couples who come dine at his restaurant tend to bother him when they get touchy-feely. But that wasn't the main problem.

Who would bother going to an Uzbek restaurant? It's not like Uzbek food is super popular in the United States. So you would need to advertise your restaurant, to, wait for it, the Uzbek disapora. Look, I told him, you need to go to every university, language school Uzbek business in this city, find the guys. When Uzbeks are among themselves, a lot of the conversation centers around “where are the Uzbek restaurants?” So you need to find those students, chat with them, tell them you have a restaurant, bring them to your restaurant and serve them with love. Uzbeks come to the US to learn English, to work at factories, to start their own businesses or to study at universities. Go to those places and ask where are the Uzbeks. Unfortunately he was the shy type, and his restaurant was gone soon after.

The American micro brewery in France. This guy's from Milwaukee, the American capital of micro breweries. Plus he comes from generations of brewers, and his ancestors started one of the oldest beer breweries in America. That's a good start for selling beer in France. The thing is in the United States we'll go to a bar with a buddy, chat, chat, have another beer, chat, chat, have another beer. We'll start the drinking at 2 PM, and when we check our clock it's 2 AM and the bar has to close. These people are the norm in the United States in some places. They do exist in France, but are few and far between.

France is the kind of country where beer is considered expensive and boorish, gives you a big belly and makes you talk a lot and is kind of a waste of time. Plus the French tend not to give beer the kind of attention they give wine and to them beer is just beer. So the guy really should have advertised his pub to the local American community, hung out with them, told them he had a bar and to come visit when they had time. But the guy was so busy brewing he didn't have time to meet other Americans. His bar would have been a nice magazine feature story, but as to finding patrons you really have to go look for them and bring them.

The British language school in Algeria. For starters land is very expensive in Algeria and you'll spend a lot of money renting your school property. Chairs, tables, whiteboards, construction workers, electricity, gas, water, plumbers are also on the expensive or very expensive side in Algeria, and good ones are hard to find. Plus Algerians tend to have little or no disposable income, and often can't afford to take language lessons. When they can afford to take language lessons, quality will mean a great deal to them.

Finding teachers who know to teach anything other than grammar is complicated in Algeria. There are no “English education” or “TESOL” schools in Algeria, and a lot of your teachers will be “English literature” majors meaning that they will have studied English grammar and literature thoroughly, but will not have bothered with pedagogy and teaching conversation, professional English use or academic English use. A lot of your teachers won't even be teaching “grammar” and will actually be teaching “syntax” which is the scientific study of grammar. Plus your teachers will tend to believe your students have “gaps” and that they need to close those “gaps” something students tend to find very condescending. So obviously students stop coming, you can't afford all those expenses and you end up having to shut down.

So in the end business is a lot of common sense. Knowing the local market, calculating how much the business will cost you, estimating who your customers will be and what their needs are, serving the customers are all needs that you want to take into account. And remember, it's not the customers who serve you, you serve the customers.

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