Get Closer to Business in Developing Economies

By Maggie Ke

  1. Expecting – Dreams come true!

Have you ever worked with a local business in developing economies? Have you ever thought of applying what you learn in class to real life business case? Thanks to BUSI2816: Transformative Business Immersion, I have the opportunity to experience what I have dreamed of in Philippines.

When talking about Philippines, many people will think of Bohol, a beautiful island attracting thousands of tourists every year. Jagna, the city we stay, lies in this island. However, the role we play here is not tourists, but consultants and helpers.

The local business that Liz and I work with is JPI Tinsmith Centre, which is a store selling hardware. At first, we had planned to go to the shop directly, but the shopkeeper was not there in the first two days, and thus, we could only visit it on Wednesday. Hence, on Monday and Tuesday, we decided to drop by the owner’s house to collect some information and to inspect the workplace.

  1. Embarking – Get Started!

The owner, Wilfredo Jr., is very patient and friendly, so are his family members. Every time we asked questions, he listened carefully and tried to answer them clearly. His daughter, Irish, a university student majoring in English Education, volunteered to help us to translate from Visayan languages to English (her father speaks Visayan more fluently). With their aid, the consulting process went on smoothly.

The process of the consultation was intense. I prepared some questions based on the reading ‘The Five Most Important Questions’, such as ‘Who is the customers of the main products?’, ‘Do you have any short-term plans?’, ‘What would you like to achieve in the long run?’ and so on. Apart from general questions, we also asked something deeper according to the answer. For instance, when it comes to water tank (one of the most popular products), we did not just analyze the question on the surface, instead, we dug the information regarding its raw materials, supplies and tried to draw a picture of the whole industrial chain.

After the consultation, we went to the workplace (which is near Wilfredo Jr.’s house). The production was temporarily suspended due to Wilfredo Jr.’s wound, but the tools and moulds told me that how busy this place used to be. With eyes closed, the familiar smell brought me back to my childhood when my grandparents were producing packing bags – They spared no effort to run the small business because it took them great pain to found it and it used to be what our family lived on. JPI Tinsmith Centre is also a family-based business, therefore, I understand how vital it is for a family. I made up my mind that I would try my best to help and even to make a difference.

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Irish and I holding an ice cream machine made of stainless steel in the workplace.

Easier said than done. There are numerous difficulties we need to encounter. To begin with, the business environment here is significantly different from the market I am familiar with, such as Hong Kong market. As a result, some theories we acquired may be not applicable here. Second, in Economic Development: Poor Economics, it says that one disadvantage of the business of the poor is that the products may be ‘utterly undifferentiated from the many others around them’. However, JPI Tinsmith Centre is the only store selling steel water tanks and steamers in Jagna. For these two products, the cannibalization is not as fierce as I thought before (but we are aware that there are some strong competitors in Tagbilaran selling similar products). Hence, we need to find other aspects when developing strategies so that the sales of these two products are more likely to be boosted. In addition, according to the survey we conducted, many shop owners in the market had never heard of JPI Tinsmith Centre although the store is just several hundreds meters away from the market. Therefore, lack of promotion seems to be one of the existing problems that the store faces. Also, the instability of raw material supply is a severe threat.

Nevertheless, just as Liz told me, ‘The weaknesses can also be regarded as challenges’, our task is to make up for the deficiency and to further build up business. ‘It will be a busy month’, I said to myself, and I am ready.

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In JPI Tinsmith Centre, some pretty gadgets were found.

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