Business Strategies Used by Micro-SMEs in a Bangkok Street Market

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Now published: Walsh, John, “Business Strategies Used by Micro-SMEs in a Bangkok Street Market,” Journal of Enterprising Communities, Vol.8, No.2 (2014), pp.147-58, doi: 10.1108/JEC-02-2013-0001.

Abstract:

Purpose – This paper aims to report on research aimed at determining the nature of business strategies employed by micro small and medium-sized street vendors in a local market area in Bangkok.

Design/methodology/approach – The research consisted of a longitudinal study of the defined research site, involving ethnographic interaction and observation mediated by the use of a research diary.

Findings – The research found that the use of business strategies was quite limited and varied in line with the street vendor’s relationships with other actors and business practitioners.

Research limitations/implications – The research was deliberately limited in terms of space and is ongoing in terms of time. Additional areas of Bangkok will also be studied for comparative purposes.

Practical implications – Street vending and markets offer valuable opportunities for informal employment and for part-time employment to provide additional income generation for the working poor. Vendors also help sustain a decent standard of living for migrant workers.

Social implications – Street vending of this sort reflects the nature of underlying changes in urban life: the building of new mass transit routes, the opening of condominiums in place of shop houses and the flourishing of the frozen food industry. Many street vendors are mobile and flexible but not all of them.

Originality/value – This paper contributes to the literature on street vending and urban micro-entrepreneurs and will be of interest not just to scholars of business but also in planning for social policy and urban management.

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A New Generation of Bangkok Street Vendors: Economic Crisis as Opportunity and Threat

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Maneepong, Chuthatip and John Walsh, “A New Generation of Bangkok Street Vendors: Economic Crisis as Opportunity and Threat,” Cities, Vol.34, special issue on ‘Urban Borderlands” (October, 2013), pp.37-43. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2012.11.002.

Abstract:

In 1997, the financial crisis seriously damaged the Thai economy and led to the closing of many companies. Previously, it had been believed that laid-off workers would mostly return to rural employment or part-time urban tasks. However, research among street vendors in Bangkok reveals that many of the retrenched workers preferred to, and did, remain in the city and put to use their latent business and entrepreneurial skills to practice by establishing their own informal businesses. This group of vendors tends to dominate these activities, often through business savvy, with experience in the formal sector. Instead of the “street” image of vendors being that of domestic migrants, the “new generation” of vendors is evolving into something more complex. The paper focuses on documenting and understanding the phenomenon of new generation street vendors. We attempt to derive lessons from the 1997 economic crisis to improve the transition of vendors from the formal to “new” informal sector under current, and likely worsening, economic conditions. This paper analyses how and why these two groups express themselves and how they respond differently to the socio-economic and political forces that have an impact on the urban space they share. It then considers whether policy makers should regard street vending as a viable part of the economy which is not transitional but more permanent and should be regarded as an important part of the urban economy of industrializing nations such as Thailand.

A New Generation of Bangkok Street Vendors: Economic Crisis as Opportunity and Threat

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Announcing: Maneepong, Chuthatip and John Walsh, “A New Generation of Bangkok Street Vendors: Economic Crisis as Opportunity and Threat,” Cities, in press, corrected proof, available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2012.11.002.

Abstract:

In 1997, the financial crisis seriously damaged the Thai economy and led to the closing of many companies. Previously, it had been believed that laid-off workers would mostly return to rural employment or part-time urban tasks. However, research among street vendors in Bangkok reveals that many of the retrenched workers preferred to, and did, remain in the city and put to use their latent business and entrepreneurial skills to practice by establishing their own informal businesses. This group of vendors tends to dominate these activities, often through business savvy, with experience in the formal sector. Instead of the “street” image of vendors being that of domestic migrants, the “new generation” of vendors is evolving into something more complex. The paper focuses on documenting and understanding the phenomenon of new generation street vendors. We attempt to derive lessons from the 1997 economic crisis to improve the transition of vendors from the formal to “new” informal sector under current, and likely worsening, economic conditions. This paper analyses how and why these two groups express themselves and how they respond differently to the socio-economic and political forces that have an impact on the urban space they share. It then considers whether policy makers should regard street vending as a viable part of the economy which is not transitional but more permanent and should be regarded as an important part of the urban economy of industrializing nations such as Thailand.


Highlights

► In 1997, the financial crisis seriously damaged the Thai economy and led to the closing of companies. ► Many of the retrenched workers use their skills to practice by establishing their informal businesses. ► This group of vendors tends to dominate these activities, often through business savvy, with experience in the formal sector. ► The paper focuses on documenting and understanding the phenomenon of “new generation” street vendors.

After the 1997 Financial Crisis: The Behaviors and Implications of a New Cohort of Street Vendors

Announcing: Walsh, John and Chuthatip Maneepong, “After the 1997 Financial Crisis: The Behaviors and Implications of a New Cohort of Street
Vendors,” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, Vol.33, No.2 (July, 2012), pp.255-69. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9493.2012.00464.x.

Abstract:

After the 1997 financial crisis, many retrenched workers preferred not to return to provincial homes but remained in Bangkok to establish informal retail businesses in branded and other consumer products. In contrast to traditional street vendors, who specialized in food items primarily catering for low-income customers, and focused on high volume, these ‘new generation’ street vendors also adopted more formal business practices. Given their greater sophistication and better education, we hypothesized that they would be more organized advocates of vendors’ rights and thus more prone to conflicts with municipal authorities. Based on interviews, however, we found that new generation vendors are adaptive to location and business strategy, and prefer a low profile in dealing with officialdom. By contrast, traditional vendors remained more tied to particular spaces, are more likely to stand up for their rights to use public space and, because they expect more from government, are more prone to conflicts with municipal authorities. Our findings relate to ongoing discussion on the rights and needs of street vendors to access urban public space and the responsibilities of authorities to meet and provide for these informal sector livelihoods that make up a significant share of the national economy in Thailand, as elsewhere in the global South.

More: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9493.2012.00464.x/abstract.

After the 1997 Financial Crisis: New Vendor Cohorts and Behaviors in Bangkok: Interactions with Officialdom and Policy Implications

I am pleased to announce that the following paper has been accepted for publication by editors of the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography:

Maneepong, Chuthatip and John Walsh, “After the 1997 Financial Crisis: New Vendor Cohorts and Behaviors in Bangkok: Interactions with Officialdom and Policy Implications.”

Abstract:

The 1997 financial crisis seriously damaged the Thai economy. Rather than return to provincial homes, many retrenched workers remained in Bangkok putting their training and business experience to use, establishing informal sector businesses, offering new products, such as own-brand designer goods and using more formal business models. By contrast, the traditional “old generation” street vendors specialized in food, primarily selling to low-income customers, and focused on volume. The hypothesis was that the “new generation” street vendors, given their greater sophistication, would be more organized, strong advocates of vendors rights, and more prone to conflict with authorities. However, research based on interviews with “new” and old generation” vendors led to the opposite conclusion. The “new generation” vendors are adaptive to location and business strategies and  prefer a low profile in dealing with officialdom. By contrast, the “old generation” vendors are more tied to particular spaces and better organized; they expect more from government and this often results in conflict with authorities. This raises policy questions concerning whether urban public spaces should reject or retain street vending business, how to respond to its needs and conditions and what role bureaucratic bodies should play in relation to urban planning and policies towards street vendors.

Keyowords: Bangkok, city governance, street vending, urban development

I will be sure to provide details of final publication date as and when these become available.

Street Vendors and the Dynamics of the Informal Economy: Evidence from Vung Tau, Vietnam

Announcing: Walsh, John, “Street Vendors and the Dynamics of the Informal Economy: Evidence from Vung Tau, Vietnam,” Asian Social Science, Vol.6, No.11 (November 2010), pp.159-65, available online at: http://journal.ccsenet.org/index.php/ass/article/viewFile/6672/5991.

Abstract:

The role of the informal economy in promoting genuine economic development remains a contested one: optimists believe potential entrepreneurs are capable of supporting themselves and their families, perhaps with the assistance of interventions; pessimists, meanwhile, see such individuals as being subject to the forces of global capitalism with which they cannot contend and who must survive increasingly difficult housing, living and environmental conditions which threaten their security. Previous research of street vendors in Bangkok indicated some support for both points of view and this paper extends the research to Vung Tau in Vietnam, which is an oil industry centre and emerging tourist resort. To what extent are vendors able to upgrade their products and business models to take advantage of the new demands available and what difficulties do they face in their work? To date, they have not been able to take advantage of such opportunities.

Keywords:

Informal economy, Street vendors, Vietnam, tourism, Economic development

The role of the informal economy in promoting genuine economic development remains a contested one: optimists believe potential entrepreneurs are capable of supporting themselves and their families, perhaps with the assistance of interventions; pessimists, meanwhile, see such individuals as being subject to the forces of global capitalism with which they cannot contend and who must survive increasingly difficult housing, living and environmental conditions which threaten their security. Previous research of street vendors in Bangkok indicated some support for both points of view and this paper extends the research to Vung Tau in Vietnam, which is an oil industry centre and emerging tourist resort. To what extent are vendors able to upgrade their products and business models to take advantage of the new demands available and what difficulties do they face in their work? To date, they have not been able to take advantage of such opportunities.

Keywords:

Informal economy, Street vendors, Vietnam, tourism, Economic development

Sugar Prices Threaten Street Vendors’ Livelihoods

Mix together state mandated prices for basic food commodities, inconsistent policing and a surging world price and you end up with the mess that is the Thai sugar industry.

Although government regulations state that two million tons of sugar must be reserved for domestic consumption annually, the limited technical capacity of the requisite department of the police (aka cough tea money cough) means that producers can both export as much as they like and charge higher than the mandatory price and get away with it.

As ever, it is the poor and vulnerable who are suffering. Bangkok street vendors selling food often find that sugar is an intrinsic part of their offering (e.g. fruit is sold with varieties of sugar/salt/chilli mixes and many dishes include sugar as an often significantly large ingredient)* and the price has gone up by 10 baht per kilo to 28 baht (official price is 23.5 baht the kilo). This may not sound very much but for people living on such slender margins as street vendors, it can be the difference between survival and going under. It is even worse for the egg people – rotis, omelets and the way they put a stick through four eggs and then grill them – whose basic ingredient has doubled in price to 4 baht each while it is difficult to pass this increase on to customers, many of whom have little money themselves.

Meanwhile, it is said, large producers and exporters are making money hand over fist and there are hints of bad practice. In Thailand, of course, none of this is discussed openly and freely and, so, in the place of facts and rational discussion the minds of the public are inevitably filled with rumours and conspiracy theories.

It’s not just the sugar, of course.

 * And let’s not get started on the inordinately sweet coffee, bread and pizzas, as well as the vile sweet sauces poured over otherwise acceptable bakery products. Look at the size of so many people these days, after all.