Thursday 24 January 2008

Around the world in 80 clicks

Next week two of the Vottlers are going to Sao Paulo to look at setting up Vottle in Brazil. And after that the next destination will be Eastern Europe, Ukraine to be specific. With all the current challenges in South Africa a fire has been lit under our asses and it is go go go.

I spent some again in Eastern Europe over the Christmas period. I was in Kiev and it was mind blowing! I have been to many different places in Eastern Europe and I have come to some conclusions. It is an exciting place, filled with opportunity, but it also has it idiosyncrasies. In my view, there is a lot they don't get yet. For example, they are polite to tourists and customers because that is what the text book says. My take on Ukraine, for example, is that a deal is a deal - you give them money, they hand over goods. The smile is not part of the deal. They do smile, because someone told them it is the correct behaviour but I am not sure they know the fundamental reason for doing so. This is why things like business class and economy class are so curious. Again, in my view, their interpretation is that business class is a better experience, but, this does not mean that economy has to be a bad experience. In other words, they would purposefully treat economy class badly simply to make business class feel better because they don't really have a physical differentiation when it comes to a short haul flight, for example, like the one between Moscow and St. Petersburg. I experienced this a few years back, when I was made to stand on the runway for 15 minutes when it was minus 40 outside, simply because I was not in business class.

This December, in Kiev, we went to this fancy restaurant and when the bill came our host pulled out this card that gave us a 20% discount. I didn't think much of at it at the time. Then, a few nights later we go to another restaurant and before we pay our same new friend says "Hang on, let me pull out my discount card". Again, I thought nothing of it, until I noticed it was a different card. And then I learnt that he had a different card for each restaurant. I then asked him how many cards he had like that, and I was curious as to where he puts them all. No wonder they have those long coats in Russia; they need deep pockets to store all those cards. Seriously, the guy could open up a bridge club he had so many cards. So why don’t they all pull together and have one card for say, a dozen restaurants?

If you think London is expensive, then wait until you get to Moscow - if you have to go for a dinner meeting and it is your turn to pay then call in sick - trust me, if you get the bill you are gonna call in sick for real.

It certainly is exciting in the new world, but it is also can be strange and unfamiliar. I am sure within a few generations their mechanical gestures will become natural, and perhaps their obsession with the "brands" will also diminish, but then, perhaps also Eskom will get back the power. Who knows.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker