Make the sun rise in the West

Make the sun rise in the West

Make the sun rise in the West

An interesting phenomenon that regular air travellers will know is watching the sun rise in the West. Yes, I did say West. How does that happen? Simple. The sun is setting, just gone over the horizon. Your aircraft takes off. Suddenly you see the sun again and as your plane rises, so does the sun.

Well, it appears to. The explanation is that the higher you go, the further your horizon. Many in Asia have yet to discover the true value of a longer horizon and the potential for a market in the West – or as I call it, the ‘Far West’. The markets exist, they are relatively rich, mature even, and looking for meaning, self-expression and above all quality. There are several levels of market; the relatively rich ones have grown fast and present opportunities we didn’t contemplate twenty years ago.

Since WWII a succession of badly produced products initially convinced the West that Asia was not capable of producing quality. Japan was first, followed by Australia with its ‘Kangarouge’ wine, Hong Kong hot on its heels, S Korea followed and so on. Asia still produces an occasional exploding Samsung. Generally, quality has improved but not so much in China. There the quality of products is extremely variable, some brilliant, some poor.

That Asia, including China, is capable of producing high quality products is obvious. But Asia persists with a ‘cost’ mind-set instead of a ‘quality’ passion. This is a rather sweeping statement and clearly there are many high quality products made in Asia. But it is broadly true and it is slowing the rate of Asian business in the west. As a wise old foreman in a tea factory told me in 1951 “the cheapest is usually the most expensive in the long run”.

Extreme cost-cutting, shoddy workmanship, built-in obsolescence, poor warranty, bad customer service (even before the sale) and a passion for volume that defies the trend to personalised production and selling, all contribute to a loss of sales. The lost sales are not just volume – so beloved of Asian businessmen – but of margin. ‘Revenue’ has been drilled into the SME Manager’s mind, regardless of margin. Profitable businesses look at both.

Japan significantly succeeded in changing its image of cheap and cheerless to precise and reliable. It still hasn’t conquered the production of sustainable products, repairable not disposable. The market for these is growing fast. Even Hurricane Harvey will have altered the minds of some people about climate change – though whether such thoughts will reach the de-segregationally named White House has yet to be seen.

Humans are at a crossroads. Those living comfortably are searching for more meaning. A sustainable planet is near the top of their list. They want products that, while technologically clever, are sustainable. They want personal attention – something they have lost almost totally with Amazon. Online buying is convenient, cheap and generally efficient. Everyone wants that. But it misses the personal touch of the shop assistant. Those living less than comfortably want to know that what for them may be a big investment will last and can be sustained for a reasonable time.

Interestingly, the arts in Asia have taken the lead and are now producing quality that rivals the best of the west. The prices Asian art and performance are fetching in Europe and the United States testify to the quality being achieved. A real lesson in margins.

Westerners are often justifiably criticised for not understanding the Asian Mind. Do Asians understand the new Western mind where junk is for the birds and quality is for the future?
The race to keep technologically ahead is not matched by the race to keep socially ahead.

That will only be achieved when the Sun rises in the West.