Friday, May 29, 2015

The "I Die, You Die" Business Mentality in Korea

In Korea, you really have to be a first mover. If not, you'll never get off the ground. Being in Korea for 10 years, I have been owned or partnered in a number of businesses. Some have worked and some have not. The one thing I do know is that if you want to survive you have to look like you are doing terrible that you should be humble and that you are just getting by. This will keep you under the radar. 

The problem with this is that my background is marketing and that I was born with the American Entrepeneural spirit (I know that sounds cheesy). My upbringing dictated that you should always look successful despite all the challenges and pitfalls. 

If you look successful then people will copy. Sometimes a straight up copy or a gaudier, upgraded copy with cut corners. They will tackle price points to the point they will make no money. They will do all this to steal walk-by customers. It seems there is no honor or community in the business industry here. Every business wants to be an island. For example, look at the centralized shopping districts in korea such as cameras in Namdaemun, mobile phones in Yongsan, clothing in Dongdaemun, ginseng in Gyeongdong market; etc. Sure, everyone comes to shop for those items but can all those businesses truly excel let alone, survive? I highly doubt it. Sure being a group has some advantages. Some of them pool resources to buy bulk orders and later split them up to lower costs. 

The few vendors in the markets that build a strong brand are the ones that survive or they have a special method to cut costs or do more volume. However the many other vendors in the area will cause them to lower costs to meet the new "standard pricing."  The bigger business can't coexist with the other businesses so they also must destroy or minimize the other businesses. 

The  problem is that often companies play dirty and they use the law and the police to try and strongarm other businesses. Luckily in many businesses there isn't a strong mafia presence. Neighbors will call for building violations, noise violations, trash, tax, etc. They will try and incite violations so that a business will get fined and eventually go under. 

I know it is not just in Korea but I feel there needs to be sense of community here and better laws to support businesses. If not, what's the point of a free market economy?