Article 55 – Small Entrepreneurs – The Hobbits

by Tan Thiam Hock

After an early Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner with relatives, my wife, daughter and I left for KLIA to take a MAS flight out to Auckland. It was a fully sold out flight and boarding took a bit longer than expected. Then when everybody was boarded, the electrical power suddenly cut off and it took a full 5 mins to restore the power. Since it was the proven Boeing 772 and not the Dreamliner, I was not unduly worried that it was due to battery problems.

This flight, every thing else worked out well, from the movies to the meals. Service was as usual top notch especially from the semi bald senior stewards. Nothing beats experienced staff with good service attitude. For those with businesses in the service trade, it is important to keep certain senior experienced staff within your front line team. I know junior staff costs much less but if you are claiming 5 star service, you need an experienced and willing crew to deliver. Still have the return journey to look forward to.

I rented a Camry 2.5 since I planned to travel some 8 hours south to Wellington to meet up with old varsity friends who quit high flying jobs with Securities Commission and UOB Bank to start a new life in New Zealand. Auckland was generally boring even though the restaurant scenes at the pier was interesting. But there is only so much Kiwi, Italian and continental meals that you can eat.

So we set off to Matamata where Hobbiton town is and the only reason why I managed to drag my wife to travel with me to New Zealand. Peter Jackson is a big deal in Kiwiland since he made USD 125 million from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Imagine a land where sheep outnumber humans by 10 to 1 and you will appreciate the fact that there is one major export earner other than milk, milk powder and merino wool.

Even their Prime Minister wanted to be associated with Hobbiton since he graced the opening 2 years ago. Now you know why our own Datuk Michelle Yeoh and Datuk Jimmy Choo are so popular with our politicians and socialites. If that is not enough, why not bring in the one song sensation Psy to our political rally? He is not Malaysian? Never mind. He is more popular than Justin Bieber, isn’t he?

Then we stopped by Rotorua just to understand why an old love song was written about loved ones leaving the town. Maybe the Gen Y groupies might not know about this childhood song that I learnt in school. But it goes something like this: “hurry hurry hurry home love, hurry back to Rotorua….through the mountains and the valleys….hurry home to me….”

After covering Rotorua town in half an hour, we decided to take off to Lake Taupo. It was a really boring town with nothing interesting for me and my family, the city folks. Now I know why their residents leave Rotorua and never came back. I believe the song is still relevant today as Rotorua is like Sibu and so many of our small towns where the young people have migrated to major cities in search of fortune and fame.

In Lake Taupo, we were the youngest couple at the hotel restaurant. Looking at the rest of the customers, you could tell their age by the amount of patience they have while waiting for their meals. Time stood still in restaurants from Auckland to Lake Taupo. You have to wait for between 30 minutes to an hour for your main course to arrive. So un-Asian.

A big portion of their so called highways are actually just two lane trunk roads where you have to wait for opportunities to overtake. I was pulled over by a highway patrol car driven by a single policeman who was traveling the opposite direction. He claimed that I was speeding at 129 km/ hr and I wanted to asked him how he managed to speed camera me while he was driving. But he looked like a friendly koala bear with a mustache and he wasn’t as helpful as our local traffic police. He certainly won’t understand my colloquial Malay, “”Encik, boleh tolong ah?”

Upon arrival in Wellington, we rushed off to a Chinese restaurant which was packed with people. Food arrived in 10 minutes and we were out of the restaurant in 40 minutes. Half the price, quarter the time and I managed to get really spicy chopped chilies. Feels more like home.

I did learn something new this trip. Like how to sell the wrong product to the customers who think with their heart and not their brain. Like I should have just rented a 1600 cc car instead of a 2500 cc car. After all, the top speed allowed in New Zealand highways is just 100 km/hr. To stretch my logic a bit further, why bother to buy a car that is more than 1300cc in Singapore when the top speed allowed anywhere on the island is just 90 km/ hr? I can understand if you buy a Ferrari in Singapore because you can always exercise the engine on Malaysian highways. Speeding tickets at RM 300 is peanuts when converted and you incur no demerit points.

If you are in the prestige business, emotional appeal is much much more important than practical reasoning. When you sell Myvi, low downpayment and low interest Hp payment will be most appealing to your target market whereas you should always sell upgraded big engine models to those with stuffed wallets. The bigger the wallets, the bigger the ego, the bigger the engine. Just remember, big wallets, big ego, big heart, small brain.

And how do you keep young people from leaving their small towns? The only solution is to find the right complementary businesses that offers employment and small business opportunities for them. For instance, Kuantan port would have been a great port for import- export to East Malaysia and Philippines just by the geographical fact that ships do not have to travel down the Straits of Malacca and round Singapore. With the new east coast highway, trucking takes an extra 2 hours minus the Port Kelang jam but shipping time can be reduced by 2 days. Maybe a Sea Asia budget shipping line might work. Tony, are you up to it?

Kuantan has one of the most beautiful and commercially viable public beach in Malaysia. But the Teluk Cempedak beach has been so badly developed over the last 20 years that the natural beauty of the the property is destroyed beyond recognition. In Lake Taupo and Rotorua, all the beachfront properties were hotels or motels and even though the customers were local aged tourists because they can afford, there were many job opportunities created for young people in the service industry, from hotels to Eco tourism activities. Instead, all we got from Kuantan is Lynas, not enough hotels and an ugly and sad Teluk Cempedak.

New Zealand never promised me a slick city with modem amenities. They played to their core strength which is to promote their rugged and beautiful landscapes. They have built an integrated Eco tourism industry around each of their towns and cities. I was definitely not their target market. But for those who loves outdoor activities, you will love this country.

And you won’t get a speeding ticket for cycling over 100 km/hr because Lance Armstrong couldn’t either. Despite the fact that he pumped himself full with steroids and he hid the truth from the world for so many years. I believe he will join American politics soon and the public will forgive and love him.

Before it becomes legally haram, I would like to wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s day!

P/S

There will be a mid week posting on “Things to consider when starting a new business”. Should warn you that it could be a boring and dry article but it is an essential read for entrepreneur wannabes.

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