Booming in Burma, getting high in Spain, store wars in Thailand and fronts of knowledge in New Zealand.
Retailers in France are protesting the country’s ban on Sunday trading. Some Paris stores are already exempt but shops around the country are beginning to challenge the 1906 ruling. Take note, Germany.
If Burma’s electricity is sporadic, its internet services are erratic. But that hasn’t dampened business interest in the country, where foreign direct investment has reached new highs in 2013. In Yangon, the main curb on growth appears to be the availability of office space, with many groups basing staff in costly condos or hotels.
Enter Anthem Asia, a small but savvy Hong Kong-based investment and advisory group. In September Anthem launched the first of a planned network of Hintha Business centres in smart premises in downtown Yangon, featuring hot desks, concierge services and an uninterrupted power supply. Rates start at $15 (€10.90) an hour for a desk and $1,800 (€1,309) a month for a small office. Josephine Price, the group’s co-head, says Anthem was investing up to $1m in the 557 sq m flagship. “It’s all about enabling people to spend their energy on what matters – their own business,” says Catherine Smith, Hintha’s director.
About seven other serviced office operations have sprung up in Yangon but there is a demand for premium space and reliable services. “You end up paying A-grade rent for a B-grade office, with all the challenges – not here,” says Allen Thai, Yangon representative for a European financial firm and one of Hintha’s first tenants. The move is well-timed: 0ffice space in Yangon is among the most expensive in Southeast Asia. “It’s not yet time for really big groups to invest in the office business but you could say groups like Anthem are pioneers,” says Jonathan Nicols, author of business guides to Burma.
Independent shops are big business in Egypt but the lack of smaller denominations in the currency means you’re more likely to end up with an onion than change when settling a bill.
Vodafone has introduced recharge cards that top up the credit on phones and are distributed by shopkeepers in lieu of change. The Fakka cards (it means “small change”) are now in 46,000 shops. According to Vodafone, it has exceeded its sales target by 500 per cent and raised the revenue of the average mobile user by 7 per cent since launching in mid-2012.
Beginning as a single snail farm in Corinth in 2008, Greek firm Fereikos Helix now oversees 175 farmers and exports its molluscs throughout Europe. “We saw a great opportunity in the market,” says Maria Vlachou, one of the two sisters behind the firm. The €2bn-a-year market is anything but slow-moving. By spreading its farms through Europe the firm safeguards production against adverse weather.
With backers including Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and an award for its architecture, Lebanese winery IXSIR has already distinguished itself. But this would have meant nothing had the wine not delivered on taste.
Growing grapes across Lebanon’s mountains, IXSIR produces just under 400,000 bottles a year and is carving a niche in places including the US, Japan and France. By next year, the company will sell more wine abroad than in Lebanon.
In the past, this has been the path to success for other local brands such as Château Musar. “Ultimately, wine is about time and we are not in any rush,” says IXSIR’s export manager Nagi Saikali.
Perhaps, but local competition is taking note. According to Lebanese wine critic Michael Karam IXSIR’s presence “will have a ripple effect across the industry”.
Swimming pool manufacturer Fluidra is making a splash outside its native Spain. The company posted sales of over €10m in the first six months of 2013. Of these, 81 per cent were abroad.
The number of hot air balloons being manufactured worldwide may have halved since 1990, but sales for Spanish brand Ultramagic continue to soar upwards. Co-founder and sales director Carles Lladó says that over two decades ago the world was making around 1,000 balloons a year. Today this number hovers around 500, most of which are produced by only three companies.
Created by two brothers and two friends in 1979 after a ballooning trip in Africa, this small company on the outskirts of Catalonian town Igualada employs 44 workers.
General manager and aeronautical engineer Josep Maria Lladó has witnessed first-hand how the global market evolved from a niche sport for adventurers 30 years ago into the tourist and leisure concern it is today. With a 20 per cent market share of global sales, Carles attributes the company’s aerial presence to his targeted travel in key growth markets.
“Spanish demand was far too small for us to survive,” he says. “Today we have balloons in more than 60 countries.” Burgeoning tourism industries in countries as far-flung as Namibia, Turkey and Taiwan are behind the surge. The company’s sense of fun and adventure is expressed in the colourful designs and custom-made shapes, which range from curvaceous corporate logos to high-flying animals.
- African national parks: Improved infrastructure has seen balloon sales rise in countries such as Tanzania, Namibia, and Kenya.
- Turkey: The largest market with 80-100 balloons making multiple flights each day.
- Egypt: This was a big growth market, but with political turmoil deterring tourism the fleet is mostly grounded.
New Zealand start-up Ten Dollar Fonts (TDF) licenses typefaces for $10 (€6), helping designers gain exposure. It aims to compete with MyFonts, which often charges more than twice that. “With thousands of fonts online, finding something affordable and high quality can be hard,” says founder Daniel McQueen. The firm now has typefaces from 65 designers.
Convenience stores are popping up across Southeast Asia. Seeing the potential in the 800 to 900 new minimarkets that opened in Thailand last year, Tokyo-based Lawson Inc is spending 9bn Thai baht (€212.2m) over the next five years to expand its network from 100 to 5,000 shops.
Far from mimicking the local fare, the venture with Thai consumer goods giant Saha will open 1,000 Lawson 108 stores offering speciality products from Japan’s Hokkaido region. Traditional foods such as onigiri (rice balls) will also be flying the Japanese flag.
Founded in 2010 as an awareness campaign about conflict minerals, Amsterdam-based Fairphone has created the first smartphone made of ethically sourced materials. With an initial goal of selling 5,000 units, its crowd-funded campaign made double this in its first month.
Bas van Abel, founder and CEO, says this success is down to an inclusive and ethical approach. “We make people part of the process, which ties in to our feeling that ownership is about engagement,” he says.
With the world’s highest urban population density, space is a premium in Hong Kong. One company, The Green Patch, is set on maximising the little room on offer. Co-founded by David Sanders and Fung Bing Law the firm creates micro-gardens that provide high-yield organic produce on compact plots. Their efforts have led to a book, Growing Food in the City – Micro gardening: A Practical Guide.
Kramer is co-founder of Makeway, a media company and online publication launched in September.
What exactly is Makeway?
We’re a quarterly online magazine featuring passionate, craft-focused business owners.
Why are you aiming at the small business owner?
With changing attitudes to work and the rise of the freelance economy, we think the small, craft-focused business owner is a new breed of artisan who needs to know how to innovate and lacks the resources to help improve their business.
How will Makeway help?
We hope it will provide them with inspiration that will start conversations between small business owners and also create a community among them.