Venture Sponsorship – 5
Previously I have tried to outline some of the automatic, and perfectly natural pitfalls that many farang encounter when simply aiming to help their girlfriend / wife, and her family, become economically self-sufficient. Now for a few details that should be obvious to all but a very naive person – and I have been described as naive myself, in the past.
Remember the ‘conversation’ I overheard in a restaurant several years ago. A guy who looked mid-40s was sitting silently with his 20+ year-old girlfriend. I doubt they had known each other for long, and the guy could have been on his first or second visit to the Kingdom. She looked as bored as a very bored person, looking blankly straight ahead, towards me, which is why they had caught my attention. I presume she had started the process whereby money left his pocket… and suddenly found itself in hers…
Remember Anne Bancroft’s brilliant line in Prisoner on 2nd Avenue… when explaining to Jack Lemmon what she means by: ‘We’ve been robbed…!’
“What does robbed mean? They come, they take things out. You had ‘em, now they got ‘em. They used to be yours, now they’re theirs. We’ve been robbed…!!”
They had already discussed various business ventures, about which he seemed to know nothing, and she perhaps knew even less. Maybe she was hoping he would simply hand over large handfuls of dosh, and let her get on with it. After saying nothing to each other for over ten minutes he suddenly blurted out:
“So… what you think best… salon, travel-agent, or motorbike rental…?”
The lady didn’t answer, giving no indication of understanding the question. Maybe she didn’t have an answer, because there was no answer. She had enquired the possibility of him sponsoring her, he had asked, ‘In what…?’… she had come up with a few ideas plucked out of the ether, and he didn’t have a clue, but was daft enough to go down the route she was so easily leading him… It almost made me cry.
And yet this, it seems, is how many Thai/farang business ventures are conceived, and how many of them proceed.
I openly declared before that I am no businessman. The only formal training and experience I’ve had is when selling ice-cream from a van during university vacations, and I was pretty poor at that. As a result I was very cautious when trying to channel my wife’s entrepreneurial talents towards a business venture. As with the farm, her approach was: I provided the capital for the first year, she ‘absorbed’ the income at the end of the year, and then expected me to finance a second year.
If you have a wife who enjoys such games, and you’re happy to accommodate her, go right ahead – no problem – and have a nice life. If you are expecting her to do as she says – to run a business, and share the profits with you, at least until your investment is paid off – then you have to accept some responsibility for your money and, when it clearly looks like it is all going pear-shaped, you need to be able to pull out…
Remember: Don’t throw good money after bad.
So… how best to help your beloved realise her dream…?
In the few years I’ve spent in Hua Hin I’ve been amazed how many new business ventures have opened… only to close, often just months later. Businesses change hands more quickly than an astronaut being shot out of an escape-hatch changes his environment… and these are invariably the result of a poor business plan… or, sheer incompetence… At least, that’s how it seems to me.
A simple example. In Hua Hin’s central ‘zona-rosa’ there are a number of massage salons. On the side of the big hotels there are three or four offering an authentic, no nonsense, no frills service. On the other side are the less reputable establishments, where customers are less concerned with various Asian massage techniques. About ten years ago there were two such salons within a few hundred yards of the bars, which were usually closed by eleven o’clock – i.e. ‘last orders’ by ten o’clock – ten-thirty for a quickie… They each had between 3 and 5 staff, about half of whom appeared to have no more than one or two customers per day. Maximum earnings would have been 200 – 300 baht/day
Around five years ago several Thai ladies, suitably sponsored, decided this was their best bet, and there are now nine such establishments, each employing 4 – 6 staff but, judging by the numbers of shoes left outside, still catering to the same number of punters…
During the past five years several of them have changed hands, often resulting in a re-fit, causing further losses of capital. To boost takings the ladies sit outside dressed like and behaving like bar-girls, and most now stay open until one o’clock, and also sell drinks, encouraging customers to sit awhile afterwards and relax.
There are simply too many massage parlours in this area.
What I could never understand is, whatever business someone wishes to set up surely they must examine their intended market – at the very least. If a prospective businessman or woman had walked along these two streets during the course of several nights, preferably over several months, and found the original two salons bursting at the seams, with punters queuing outside, it wouldn’t take a Forbes expert to think a new establishment could be a good venture.
But as these two places were as empty as the bars adjacent to a bar where someone has just rung the bell, why did half a dozen people actually believe it was worth the effort, and a few more think it worthwhile to take over a defunct salon…? I can only assume their wives possessed no business acumen, or the sponsors were just naive.
One lady I knew, nice girl, very persistent, determined to make something of her life, found an old geezer (nice guy, dithering, anything for an easy life) and talked him into taking a lease on a brand new premises on the very edge of the ‘zona-rosa’. He had to fit it out from scratch, and also installed a large pool table. For three nights the place was packed – Thai custom – friends, and friends of friends, all came to ‘make lucky’. On the fourth night it closed early. By the seventh evening not one passing punter became a customer.
During the second week the sponsor and his lady usually disappeared by nine o’clock, leaving one bar-girl / mamasan, her Thai boyfriend (who was only there for the pool, and presumably free drinks), and a couple of dragons in the corner, on their phones, in charge. By ten-thirty the Thai guy was left holding the fort as the women departed, and the shutters were dropped… at which point the owners returned from dinner to lock up. Before the end of that week the owners had gone to Isaan for the weekend…
After three weeks I came across the owner, sitting alone outside, on the opposite side of the street, dejectedly staring at the empty bar, as if about to throw up. A month later three of the seven letters in the name-board had fallen off, and had not been replaced. It now spelled: ‘-o-w-ch’… I had to laugh.
After two months of the high-season they couldn’t have made enough to pay the electricity bill, and the Thai pool player was now running the place entirely alone. Two days later the shutters came down, once and for all – after an expensive one-month being fitted out, and just two months being open for business, a hand-written, A4 sign was sellotaped to the outside: ‘For Sale Owing To Change Of Plans’… Four months later, in the low-season the remaining four months of the lease, and all the furnishings, had been reduced to 685,000 ฿… Over the next couple of weeks the figure was crossed out and replaced by: 565,000, and then 455,000… The sign was as amateur as the operation.
At the end of the lease the sign came down, the owners slipped away, and the premises remained closed for two years, before I saw another young Venture Sponsorship couple investigating it as a massage salon.
Three years later the first lady returned to the bars, now with a baby, but without sponsorship and, tragically, no longer in possession of the most beautiful breasts I ever saw… At about the same time the old bar premises became a Thai cafe – which also fails to attract custom. Perhaps it’s haunted…
OK… maybe you’re thinking that’s an extreme example… It is certainly one of the worst and saddest I know… but there are dozens and dozens more that I’ve observed during my wanderings around the town.
I have also discussed the subject with Thais, as to why some businesses just seem to flop almost before they start, who claim some premises are indeed haunted… Well, all right, we can take a pinch of salt with that but… and this is a very well observed and documented, ‘but’… there are several premises in Hua Hin’s ‘zona-rosa’ area that have changed hands, and nature of business, so many times (even twice a year), and all have died a death, often within weeks of opening – with both farang and Thai owners.
Not wishing to incite unrest I won’t name them but in Soi Selkam are two large buildings – one has been a bar for at least ten years, with almost as many owners, including one who had previous experience in Bangkok and Pattaya but this ‘branch’ was never a success. It was remodelled, made open to the elements for those who like to watch the world go by, and even enclosed, with tinted glass, for those who were only interested in the antics inside. It had girls sitting out front, or more reservedly kept within… Painted white, with bright lights, and then black with concealed lighting, different owners, including one charming gay guy, tried everything they collectively knew and, to this day, have been unable to convert passing punters into customers. The last time I was in there, with Thai owners, I asked for a Coke, and was told they didn’t have any. They made no attempt to nip to the 7/11, and were surprised when I declined to accept a 7 Up.
The other building has been a bar, a massage salon, a hair salon and massage salon (cut in two), a cafe, a cafe / bar, a massage salon / bar, a weird sort of disco, another bar, and finally an expensive Thai pizza parlour, which was just a few yards from two other real Italian pizza places. This venture closed after four months, and has been closed for the past two years – though it is now being very slowly rebuilt into something else. Several of the ladies in the massage salon opposite have told me the place is haunted.
Along this street are half a dozen bars that have similarly been redecorated, re-fitted, even redesigned, and of course renamed… and none have lasted more than a year. One even closed after it’s opening night, and subsequently displayed a scruffy, hand-written, paper sign advertising, ‘Fan Rooms’, but it’s never open to enquire about vacancies.
There has been a distinctly amateur approach to business in many of these rather pathetic establishments.
To be continued…