10 investments / Global
Window of opportunity
If you’re entering 2008 with a handsome bonus, a generous inheritance or a fat payoff, *Monocle* has identified 10 business opportunities worthy of investment. A mixture of fresh ideas and proven concepts ready for other markets, our suggestions will appeal to everyone from the small-change armchair investor to the adventurous investment bank.
01 - No-excuse exercise
All aboard the MPFU: the mobile physical fitness unit
For the midsize company that doesn’t have the funds to build its own gym or the adventurous firm that’s decided to be pioneering and take office space in an undeveloped, under-serviced part of the city, it’s tricky for hard-working employees to stay fit and trim.
While runners can easily pull on their shorts, trainers and singlets and nip out for a lunch-hour jog, not all companies boast the appropriate showering facilities to freshen up post work-out and it’s always nice to cool down by doing a bit of resistance training.
To cater for this audience, there’s ample scope to launch a fleet of MPFUs – mobile physical fitness units. Think Scania bus, Technogym equipment, Duravit-fitted bathing facilities and a team of handsome, liveried personal trainers in head-to-toe Asics. The concept would not only appeal to large companies but could also work for residential complexes, large – in more ways than one, perhaps – families or whole neighbourhoods.
02 - New papers
A more streamlined daily read
In last month’s issue of Monocle we argued for the need for a different type of daily paper – leaner, sharper and higher quality in content, stock and printing, with fewer additional sections. 2008 may well be the year that some established dailies decide to give up the game and either go under or completely digital.
This should also be the year for savvy investors to seek out opportunities to buy flagging dailies and reinvent them or launch their own challenger brands.
To get them started, we’d suggest a high-quality 20-page broadsheet from Monday to Friday on thick stock, with no ads smaller than full-page, lots of analysis and even more ink on the page.
At the weekends we’d stretch this to 60 pages in a one-section, stapled, A3 “magloid” format.
03 - Rich craft
Academies are needed to teach dying artisanal skills
If we had our chance to do it all over again, we might have worked a bit harder during those woodwork classes and become master carpenters. With more manufacturing moving off-shore and craftsmen a dying breed in many developed markets, there’s room to start private academies that not only teach the finer points of firing ceramics or finishing rare wood but also building and managing brands. Where to launch? Well, the UK could certainly relearn the true meaning of 90-degree angles.
04 - Convenience stars
Grocery stores you’d want to visit
You can either try to persuade Japan’s Lawson and am/pm chains to give you a franchise to some of their newer concept stores or you can invest in a week in Tokyo, fly home and attempt to do it better. Either way, the idea of mixing an edited array of the best in food, drink, personal care products and media in a round-the-clock format is pretty unbeatable. Am/pm’s new concept store in Naka-Meguro is worth checking out for inspiration (read: plagiarism).
05 - Sofa so bad
The quest for a decent sofa bed
The conundrum of comfortable beds wedged into cramped spaces is nothing new but you’d never know it judging by the poor offer in showrooms and shops around the world. Despite the best efforts of everyone from Ikea through to Brianza’s top brands, the sofa bed is still a pretty sad state of affairs. The best we’ve found on the market is Børge Mogensen’s daybed for Fredericia, but it’s now out of production and was hardly designed for two.
With more singles out there than ever before and longer-living parents, there’s money to be made by engineering a much better arrangement of upholstery, springs and padding.
06 - Seoul food
Why delicious Korean cuisine should find a wider audience
South Korea’s done a brilliant job turning the world’s consumers on to its white goods but the country’s entrepreneurial diaspora haven’t quite turned the world on to kimchi and bindaetuk. They should.
Korean restaurants might be commonplace in LA and New York but they’ve failed to seize tastebuds with their culinary secret weapon – bibimbap. If ever a dish was ready to be transformed into a global, must-eat staple it’s this mix of fresh veg, rice, egg and meat in a sizzling stone bowl. Perhaps the only thing holding wily Koreans back are the potential lawsuits from US diners who may scorch themselves on the oven-heated vessel.
07 - For sale: your city
Imagine a city where every building is up for offer
It’s debatable who had the idea first, but Finnish brand Igglo (igglo.fi) has made the most impact with its site, which features photographs of virtually every building in Helsinki and other major Finnish cities and allows visitors to post unsolicited offers on properties that aren’t even up for sale.
For dreamers who wonder when that dear old lady in the late-19th-century villa they drive past every day is going to move into permanent care, they can get in first by posting an offer to move things along faster. In addition, sellers can find out the real value of their homes by advertising on the website for potential offers. Igglo has not only transformed the buying and selling of houses on the north side of the Baltic but also demonstrates how whole neighbourhoods can be transformed if bands of friends or investors plan to colonise a specific area.
08 - Budget deficit
Flying low-cost doesn’t have to mean the brand that taste forgot
Not all low-cost carriers are created equal – Air Berlin nice, Ryanair not so nice. The next year is likely to show more consolidation in the sector and also greater innovation.
One concept that should move beyond its borders and establish other bases is Kitakyushu-based StarFlyer. Boasting a fleet of all-black Airbus A320s, the carrier is heavy on good looks but offers minimal service. However, in Japan, minimal service still means a little snack, something to drink and bespoke chocolates, something Europe’s low-budget carriers could learn from. Having recently added Osaka flights to its limited domestic network, the StarFlyer model would fill a gap in Europe by offering a more elegant, dignified experience than what’s currently on offer.
If the ticket price was the same, which airline would you choose? The lurid purple or orange carrier with next-to-no service and staff in circus colours or the one with an all-black-and-white check-in desk, staff in perfectly tailored suits, black leather seats and aircraft fuselages in head-turning glossy black?
09 - My pod
Personal rapid transit could be coming to a city near you soon
Getting from A to B over short distances might soon sound like this. Rather than walking a kilometre to the underground, you text your local transit operator and a message instantly comes back informing you that your closest pick-up point is just three minutes away. Ascending the stairs to an overhead platform, a small pod pulls up and in 10 minutes takes you to within three minutes of your workplace.
There are a host of programmes competing for the imaginations of infrastructure planners but one of the most ambitious is the Vectus concept from South Korea. Engineers envisage a web spread across the city that allows vehicles to follow shortest distances to hundreds of stations. Airports and resorts are lining up to be the first to sample the concept.
10 - Class coach
Second-home hubs should be served by a new breed of luxe bus
For the less fortunate who reside in countries with inferior public transport networks, there’s an urgent need to rethink the weekend commute. From Toronto to New York to Milan, the journey to weekend houses in Muskoka, the Hamptons and St Moritz respectively is becoming increasingly unattractive.
New York might have its Hampton Jitney bus service but it’s far from what it could be. Weekend residents and visitors are looking for something that goes beyond a basic milk-run coach service. A better quality of bus (a shapely Volvo, perhaps) with generous legroom, in-seat mobile chargers, wireless connectivity and immaculate loos would get more people out of their cars and take the stress out of getting there and back on Friday and Sunday evenings.
Aside from the routes mentioned, we’d also set up premium services linking: Manhattan-Hudson, London-Cotswolds, Hamburg-Sylt and Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo.
10 trends for the aviation industry
Despite environmental worries, statistics show a clear increase in air travel. According to the latest quarterly review by the flight information authority Official Airline Guide, close to 310 million airline seats were on offer in July alone – a 7 per cent increase on the same time last year. So the real question is where will we fly, and how? In the aviation business right now, everything seems to be about adding, not taking away. Economic growth and foreign trade are driving air traffic to the east, and at the recent industry conference in Stockholm, titled Routes, China and India were definitely the talk of the town.
01 China. Improving its infrastructure by building new airports in the centre and west, including the world’s highest airport (4,334m), in the Tibetan town of Ngari. A second airport is also being built in Beijing to accommodate growing demand.
02 India. Indian low-cost carriers account for almost half of the domestic market, while Indian, Middle East, US and European carriers are eyeing the international market. The main aviation hubs are forming around Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai.
03 Dubai. The fastest-growing aviation hub in the Persian Gulf, with 30 million passengers passing through its airport annually. By 2010, that figure is expected to be 60 million.
04 Russia. International carriers are interested in entering the market but are restricted by flight permits. Moscow is opening up, but flying to St Petersburg is still difficult.
05 Low-cost to long-haul. Low-cost is still aviation’s fastest growing sector. The next step is moving from short flights to mid-haul and long-haul.
06 Bigger aircraft. As Clickair’s Alex Cruz says: “You want to pack in as many passengers as you can.”
07 Green flying. The industry is under great pressure to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. The focus is on biofuels and new technology; lighter and more fuel-efficient planes.
08 Airport cities. Dubai World Central is the model for building whole cities around airports. Dubai’s airport has high-rises, homes, golf resorts, malls, aviation industry and crew training.
09 Short breaks. The trend is towards more but shorter holidays, driven by the rise of the low-cost flight.
10 Direct flights within Europe. A trend linked to shorter breaks. As Olle Zetterberg, CEO of Stockholm Business Region, says: “If I travel to Venice with my wife for the weekend, I don’t want to get my luggage on the Sunday – which often happens if you have to change planes.”