Sunday, June 14, 2009

Small Business in Thailand

Times are tough all around the world. Thais are being urged to start small businesses when they are unable to find employment that will feed and house their families.

In the states this is a much more involved process. Starting your own business is a different beast half way around the world though. Anyone with a small bbq grill, some skewers, pork, and a lighter can pull up a small 4 square meter area of sidewalk or even road next to an apartment complex or 7-11 and peddle grilled pork. These entrepreneurs probably bring in enough cash between lunch and dinner to recover their costs and have enough to save for rent and food.

You see these stands everywhere here in Thailand. We can walk outside of our apartment and buy a decent dinner from food carts for two people for under $5.00 U.S.

50 baht for two grilled chicken quarters (that would be two legs and two thighs...best in Bangkok if you ask me!), 10 baht for two bags of sticky rice, 20 baht for two steamed cobs of corn, 25 baht for somtam (Spicy Thai papaya salad), and 40 baht for two blended fruit smoothies. A grand total of 145 baht...at 35 baht per dollar, that's $4.15 for a great dinner...FOR TWO!!

All of this is steps away, literally. We have to walk a little over 100 meters for the super yummy smoothies or Thai iced tea. We walk the distance because we don't like the stand next to the chicken man...not sure how that guy is still in business, I think he uses sewer water in his drinks, plus he doesn't have blended drinks, only iced or hot.

It's hard to picture without...well...pictures. But the guy who sells the corn on the cob, literally has a steamer in a little wagon. Beside a big bag of pre shucked corn cobs, there is a car battery attached to a small light for when it gets dark out. He takes up a total of probably 1.5 meters square! He charges 10 baht per cob and probably sells up to 40 cobs a day. At 6 days a week, he probably can bring in almost 10,000 baht a month. That's a decent salary for this area. And if one guy is selling corn over here, his wife is probably selling fruit or peanuts somewhere close by, doubling their salary.In Ubon, Pae's brother P'Nut and his girlfriend recently started their own small business. They sell Thai juices on weekends at Meaw and Yok's GuiJap/HotPot joint on Sukkhauppatum. They sell their chrysanthemum juice (น้ำดอกเก็กฮวย), longan juice (น้ำลำไย) and rosselle juice (น้ำกระเจี๊ยบ) for 10 baht a cup as students break for lunch and leave the satellite college across the street at the end of the soi. They don't break the bank, but the time they put into it is little. The ingredients are cheap, the startup cost was pretty much three pitchers, a bag of sugar, flavoring, plastic cups and straws. They also have to spring for ice.Pae and I helped them sell their drinks on their "grand opening" weekend last time we were in Ubon. It was fun to sit and watch the people crowd in to eat lunch, drink free water, then look over at us or someone already drinking juice. They see the 10 baht sign and one or two people at each table will order juice! It was good to see P'Nut awake before noon on the weekend!On a recent dinner drive to the beach, we passed a stand on the side of the highway that sold exclusively...deep fried field rats...Sorry, no picture! We didn't stop for a taste test!

There are people here who sell their food on the water as well, like in the floating market in Amphawa and Little Pattaya in Ubon!Thailand has its elite "haves" and its super poor, rural "have nots". There's a decent size middle class as well. The "have nots" here work so hard for the little that they have. It's in your face every day. They're there rain or shine. We certainly appreciate them as we don't cook our own food, they're steps away and their food is always fresh and cooked right before your eyes.

This makes me hungry...I'm gonna go eat something!

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