Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cheap Taiwan part 2

In "Cheap Taiwan part 1" I introduced how good we as consumers have it here in Taiwan. But now I want to look at how this system works for those small business owners, who make up such a large part of local business. In fact, our friend Andy who has a great brick-oven pizza shop, is a good example of how free markets help small businessmen succeed.

It began as a small operation out of his home in the suburbs of Kaohsiung. He had a loyal following of pizza lovers, and he offered something different. Many of his cheeses and meats were of the "exotic" kind (well for Kaohsiung anyway) and his customers loved getting a taste of these rare delicacies! Andy had done well enough with his backyard pizza shop that he could fund an operation in the city.

It wasn't much. It kind of resembled a large tent, with a counter in front, a sink, refrigerator, and of course the brick oven. There were two or three tables on the side. It was on the sidewalk of Minghua Rd. Despite it's small size and limited customer capacity, business at this shop was really good, and Andy's Pizza built up a reputation in the neighborhood. So, after a year on the sidewalk, it was time to move on to bigger and better things. Andy got a store front (plus 4 floors, he lives above with his family) on one of the busiest roads in north Kaoshiung, and business has been booming since day one. Lunch and dinner the place is packed. Everyday a crowd of people stands around watching the foreigners making pizza. They probably have about 10 or 12 employees (up from two at the tent), three of whom make pizza. And that's really all they sell too, pizza.

Andy's Brick Oven Pizza

He makes good money now in his "proper" pizza shop, but he probably would have a bit of debt had he not been able to begin his business as a low cost, sort of makeshift operation. These "makeshift" places are what give livelihood to many people here in Taiwan. It's not uncommon to see roadside stands selling snacks or blue pick-up trucks converted into kitchens, and no one found the sidewalk brick oven pizza tent to be strange or bothersome. Sometimes it's even as simple as a table with some homemade food, or fresh produce. It's low cost, so the people working them can keep their daily earnings and have a small income for themselves. Old or young, anyone with the motivation to work can do it. And guess what... you don't see many homeless people here.

"You need money to make money" is a sad but true reality for many entrepreneurs in America. The cost of starting a business is high because you can't just set up a tent on the sidewalk and sell you stuff, you can't park a small stand on the corner with out a permit, and I would be shocked if I ever saw someone use the back of their pick-up truck as a kitchen. There are codes, red tape, and regulations, oh my!

Many people believe these rules are "good" and "protective" even "necessary". But who really benefits from them? Who are they protecting, and when did we stop being able to protect ourselves? The Taiwanese seem to do it just fine, maybe we Americans should think about giving it a try too.

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