Doing Business In St. Lucia
By Edward A. Harris
This is my 4th article in the Series of Doing Business in St. Lucia and I do hope you have been stimulated to take action to get involved in some form of entrepreneurial endeavour whether it is in St. Lucia or any other part of the world. Maybe you would like to start at home and expand. It is all up to you. I would be very pleased if through my articles I have helped to awaken the Entrepreneurial Spirit in you.
I promised in my last article to deal with the issue of St. Lucia’s response to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). However, I have taken the decision that the St. Lucia’s response to the CSME will evolve over time as the Private Sector seeks to be more creative and competitive.
Hurricane Ivan did some damage to Barbados but this did not stop small businesspersons of the region to get together in Barbados for a Regional Conference on Accelerating the Growth of SMEs – New Approaches & New Solutions. They came from as far as Suriname and Belize. The two-day conference – September 9-10, 2004 was hosted by the Barbados Small Business Association with support from major organizations and companies including the Caribbean Development Bank and Pro Invest – a programme of the ACP Group and the EU Commission for the promotion of investment. Grenada and Jamaica were not represented due the effects of Hurricane Ivan. Grenada suffered in catastrophic proportions.
St. Lucia Industrial & Small Business Association was represented by President Patrick Joseph and Immediate Past President Edward Harris. We arrived at Sir Grantley Adams International Airport on the first fight just minutes after the airport was reopened on Wednesday 8/9/04. We were determined to be a part of the history-making event at the conference where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to facilitate the formation of a Caribbean Association of SMEs. Senator Sandra Husbands, President of the Barbados Small Business Association, the only female President and her hard working team have been given the responsibility to continue the task they have begun with the cooperation of the representatives of the other Associations to deliver and launch the Association before January 2005. St. Lucia’s response to CSME must include full participation in all private sector initiatives so that our individual and collective economies could be strong. Based on the discussions, the CASME will make the difference with regard to how business is currently done by small businesses.
What does the foregoing have to do with doing business in St. Lucia? It establishes the fact that St. Lucia has a dynamic private sector and with the right of nationals to establishment in all member countries when the CSME is implemented, businesses with the ability to be duplicated can be cash cows.
Business has to do with seasons, trends and opportunities. And money is not always the major consideration. You can be an agent of change. Money helps but money is made from ideas and the ability to spot projects, products and services that could be exported. The inventors of unique products and providers of innovative services are always the winners as consumers around the world await the results of their successes. It is for you to be on the look out, rather than being consumers only be a promoters as well. Help the originators find markets overseas. Go take shoes to nations that are still walking around barefooted.
The Diaspora is in a special category and provides opportunities for export and import. Try to seek out what products and services you can import and what you can export. What about the ethnic products - Cocoa Sticks, Pepper Sauces, Spices and Exotic Fruits from St. Lucia? There are many more products from St. Lucia.
Here are a few businesses you can take a look at: Cards & Gift Wrapping, Gift Shop, Fashion Shop, Jeans Shop, Shirts & Tops, Shoe Shop, Costume Jewelry Store, Kids Wear, Kids Shoe Shop, Stationery Store, Computer Sales, Accessories & Service, Used Clothing Store, Clothing Rentals, Hand & Power Tools Rentals, Hand & Power Sales, Used Books Rental & Sales, etc., etc.. In the small islands, the trend has been over the years to diversify and offer a wide range of products. However, I firmly believe that the time has come to rethink that strategy and move into the area of Specialty Shops. There are good reasons to offer male and female goods by category as indicated in the list of retail outlets. We have seen it work with paint shops. My feeling is because of sticking with the diversified approach, retailers are losing out at being competitive and continue to force consumers to look overseas. Many of our small retailers can do a much better job if they are to specialize. A HP 3820 Printer is retailed in St. Lucia at US$325.00 and the black ink Cartridges US$50.00. I believe if our retailers can find the right sources and buy the right volume, they can be much more competitive. Here is a unique opportunity for an organisation to get into Bulk Purchasing for retailers across the region.
It is easy to say that our retailers are exploiting their customers but this is not necessarily true as many of them are buying from middlemen in Miami who make a minimum markup of 40 % and many times they will bore out your eyes if given the opportunity. We need to arrest this situation. There is a simple solution, that is, for the people of the Caribbean Diaspora to meet the needs of their countrymen and women at home for goods and services.
I recall a few years ago, there was a trend where the More Developed Countries of the region were turning to used cars from Japan which was a win, win situation for the dealers and their customers. I brought the catalog from Guyana and introduced it to my then partner in business. He said to me that St. Lucian wouldn’t be interested in purchasing used cars but as usual he took my advice even though reluctantly and agreed for me to proceed to get the agency, which we got.
It wasn’t long before the new car dealers were up in arms against us as we took over the vehicle market and left them as spectators in the business. It was a realization that the small man can be a real man. Many other individuals joined the used car business subsequently and the rest is history.
The Barrel Business is fully established and growing but it continues to be concentrated in the movement of barrels from North America and England. The business is no longer seasonal, just at Christmas but it is now a year round. Until now family and friends residing overseas fuel it. There are many of us who would like to receive an occasional barrel but have no contact. The barrel business thrives at Christmas time. The St. Lucia Labour Party Government like many other governments across the region grants import waiver of customs levies on barrels but again many are left out due to the fact that no one is providing the service of procurement of products. The time has come to take the barrel business to the next level where companies in the key cities like New York, Miami, London and Toronto will procure products at volume discounts and offer barrel pack options that will be more competitive than individuals making up their own barrels. The business could be promoted online and by catalogs. The companies should open up offices in each territory to receive and process orders and provide customs brokerage and handling at the local level.
It was done in the new car business, they were formidable but were almost displaced, at least for a period so it can be done in any vulnerable business that produce a trend or demand which necessitates change. Don’t be afraid to zoom in on established businesses if you have a knock out punch.
Look out for services in areas whether established or cutting edge. The Internet is still very much wide open with the US Government very much allowing the world’s equalizer a free reign with few exceptions. The easiest fortunes continue to be made on the Internet. We have many skilled computer technologists and webmasters but in most cases there is a lack of understanding of the seriousness of business that is done on the Internet. Collaboration between the serious players, those who are exposed to doing business on the Internet with the necessary discipline are necessary. There are instances where the webmasters fail to pay the annual registration and unscrupulous persons buy the domain name and put pornographic content on the site with the hope that the original owners will want to buy back the domain name at a premium. As far as I am aware Registrar.com sends out notices to their customers when annual fees are due. This situation should never occur. The region needs collaboration with serious web designers/webmasters who are exposed to cutting edge technologies in the developed world.
I feel that we can strengthen our core of professionals in the Caribbean to produce serious entrepreneurs by collaboration in the various business fields, especially in the area of services. Establish alliances and expand your business off shore.
The world is looking for people who are on the ball and are able to come up with ideas and identify opportunities that will make it a better place. Welcome to St. Lucia - Beautiful and Blessed!