For the past 5 years I’ve lived most of the year in southern China. I love it, it’s been an amazing experience to live in such a different culture. And yet, despite the city where I live having a population of around 7 million, sometimes the pace seems a little more like a country town. In fact it reminds me a little bit of home in country Tassie - time for talking, time for family and time for community seems to be built in to the fabric of everyday life.
Its 10pm on a weekday, I’m walking home from the subway station and pass a convenience store, photocopying shop, milk bar, noodle restaurant and a stationery shop – all still open on the off chance someone is hungry, thirsty, needs some photocopying or a pen.
Yes, China stays open for business for as long as people are walking the streets. But that’s not all, below is an overview of what I’ve discovered about doing business living in China.
Walk into any shop at any time and you’ll see employees busy on their phones, it’s not an issue and even expected as they could be doing one of three things: watching the latest episode of a Korean soap opera (I tell no lie), receiving payment of goods or selling products on China’s social media equivalent to WhatsApp or Facebook called WeChat. Today everyone is connected, physical location is no longer an issue for buying and selling. In China, you don’t even need to be selling your shop’s stock, it could be completely different altogether. My WeChat moments (public posts) are filled with promises of hair regrowth, larger eyebrows, perfect skin, silky hair, sanitary items, 3 bedroom houses for sale and Amway. Even in the flood of advertisements and information, nobody seems overwhelmed – proving that no matter where we are in the world, word of mouth via social media is a powerful marketing avenue and not restricted to a 9-5 workday.
I was visiting a friend who runs a fruit stall on a corner near an apartment complex, it was during a quiet period so the shop owner of the next stall had not yet returned from the midday rest (siesta) to sell their vegetables. When a customer came to buy vegetables, my friend would get up, weigh and take money for them, assured that if she was not at her fruit stall the owners of the vegetable stall would do the same. Community is important to people here, they know everyone in the area and have built up good relationships with their neighbours. Which brings me to the next point.
This may seem an obvious one, but it’s so true. Business Relationships are so important. Hospitality plays a big part in fostering a good business relationship. Some businesses have an extravagant dark carved wooden table and chairs with a beautiful tea set, all ready to go for any customer, or friend, who may come by.
Once walking in a small shop selling tea and cups, we were invited to sit, drink tea and chat about life and business. I get asked four questions by everyone: Where are you from? How old are you? How much money do you make a month? And, Are you married? They don’t view this as inappropriate to ask, it’s not an invasion of privacy. They genuinely want to know, besides they may also have a son who also happens to be single. But all I wanted was to buy a teapot. It’s like “let’s build a relationship, then maybe you’ll buy.”
Operating hours are flexible and vary from shop to shop but the majority stay open until the owner decides to call it a day. Focusing on their future and their child’s education, many work long hours and have very little time off. As long as the shop is open, there’s opportunity for business and to make money. It’s not uncommon for employees to only get 4 days of rest a month.
They make the most of their time after finishing work. Many will head to the local shopping centre seeking entertainment. These shopping centres during the day are relative quiet - only a few new mums and older ones browsing while retreating from the heat outside; however, wait a few hours and these places are transformed with booming music and neon lights, becoming the entertainment hub of the community. Older ones, parents and children all out until 10-11pm at night; walking, dancing and chatting together.
As the next day dawns, they return to open shop, sipping on their noodle breakfast and updating their WeChat moments, ready for the next day of business.
The observations and views expressed in the post are of the author only and do not express the opinions of RBC Hobart or Ricoh.