Hong Kong is a place to make money.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love has said that there’s a word in every city, which defines what people think most of the time. If you could read the thoughts of the people on the street, you could discover that most of them were thinking the same thing. In Rome, it’s “sex”; in Vatican, it’s “power”, in New York, it’s “achieve”. I found this concept particularly appealing. What is the word for Hong Kong? I would say “money”.
Hong Kong is a financial city no doubt about it. You can get the news about stock market, investment tips, millionaire success stories almost anywhere anytime. I turn on the TV, there’s Bloomberg type news with in-depth analysis before and after main news hours. I get into a mini-bus*, the radio is talking about investment opportunities in China. I go to a cafe, the single lady sitting on the next table is trading stocks over the phone. When I get home, my 73-year mum is talking about the falling price of a stock she bought recently. By the way, there are more than one weekly magazine dedicated to success stories of millionaires and celebrities and there is stock market index running live inside the underground trains all the time.
*mini-bus: a type of public transportation in Hong Kong with which you can stop anywhere you want. Just speak loudly to the driver when it’s close to your destination, for example “the tree ahead” or “the green house ahead.
“Stock in Hong Kong is local produce, like orange in California, tulips in Netherlands. You’ve got to buy some,” someone said in a movie.
When I was living here, I did not notice this. Only after I have moved to the UK, where the news was centred around politics, health and education did I start to realize the stark difference.
The word for Hong Kong is definitely “money” – there’s what people on the street think most of the time. One of my friends told me once when visiting Hong Kong as a tourist that he’s never seen so many Mercedes-Benz on the street in any other city.
You can feel the pulse of the city with people’s drive to make more money. This gives it buzz, energy and life. The place is peppered with small shops with all kinds of business ideas.
I am going to make an effort to discover these business ideas and share some with the readers. This article will be updated from time to time. Do come back and check.
- BBQ Fields:
Background: the Hong Kong-way of BBQ is different to the West. In Hong Kong, people like to use a long fork (I mean really long, almost a meter) and with it they hold the meat above the fire instead of putting the meat right on top of the BBQ rack. See picture below.
But what is the same with BBQ all over the world is the preparation and cleaning afterwards. Some small business owners in Hong Kong make use of an empty outdoor space (usually it’s a garage or an abandoned construction site) to run the business so that people do not need to prepare anything for the BBQ. The set up is simple. Customers pay an entrance fee to get everything prepared for them: fork, marinated food, charcoal, parking. You may even get company!
- Temporary bra shop
Smart businessmen spot a business idea here. They rent shops which are between rental contracts, normally in the period of a few months. The set up is very simple – only a few tables and they sell cheap bras to target lower-end market. No pressure in rental contract. No set up costs. Some made millions of Hong Kong dollars out of this business model!
- 24 hour bespoken suit tailors
This is actually nothing new. Hong Kong is very famous for that. But not everyone has heard of it. Hong Kong is a commercial city. Many businessmen stay only a few days for meetings. Offering quality and quick service, businessmen are more than happy to get a new suit done before they carry on with their new business adventures. The business has extended to London. Tailors fly to London for a couple of days to serve the businessmen there.
- Private Kitchens (Speakeasies)
Hong Kong is a heaven for food. Low income tax, high disposal income, rich choice of restaurants, competitive food market, international culture mean that Hong Kong people have a spoiled palette. Eating out is just so affordable and accessible that some families don’t even bother cooking at all. In average, I would say that, every family eats out at least twice a week. They certainly know good food and it also means that they constantly try to escalate their experience in food. After the financial crisis in 1997, there was a surge of independent good cooks opening their house to cook for just a few people. A majority don’t have menus. You only know that the cook is good at French food or Vietnamese food or Shanghai food etc. You just eat whatever the cook cooks for you on that day. Marketing is by word of mouth. As the sniffing dog looking for cocaine, people found their way to these unlicensed kitchens and the Private Kitchens entered the food market and became a fringe restaurant business. They normally are very good and have now been established as a tourist attraction for Hong Kong. Some food guides have designated the following criteria to be listed on their Private Kitchens publications.
1. no signage, a lot of them are in residential apartments
2. no walk-ins
3. no menus
4. selling point is the skills of the cook
5. serve less than 10 people each time
Efforts have been made by the Government to regulate the Private Kitchens, balancing the demand from the market and the normal regulations for a restaurant.
- Golf membership trading
This is actually one of my friends’ business. Hong Kong is small. Space is a very expensive asset. Therefore, golf, which needs lots of space, is an expensive game. Even if you have money, you have to wait until someone gives up his/her membership. Sometime, you may need to wait for years. I know someone who has started to wait for his son when he was three and he finally got it when the son reached 15. This gives a gap for a business opportunity. Someone will sell their membership if situation changes, like immigration. Acting as an agent, my friend will help find the buyer and seller and she takes the commission.
- Second-hand brand name hand-bags
There are many wealthy women in Hong Kong. Every season, they buy many brand name handbags. Some of them only got used once or twice. They still look very new. And what to do with those out-of-season bags? Some opened a shop and called it Milan Station to serve as an outlet for people to sell their used out of season but still in good condition brand name handbags. Other people who do not mind carrying out of season bags are quite happy to pay less to get a bag they always want to get especially the bags look so new as well. Milan Stations proved to be very successful and now there are many other “Stations”… You can say this is eBay on the street, but focused on brand name handbags.
more business ideas to come…