By Douglas Kruger
IT’S Friday afternoon at the new skatepark. Kids are ripping it up, and I can’t help but think what a fabulous idea this was. Well done, Les Quennevais. Well done, Jersey. That undulating concrete pond is just one more resource for families to enjoy, one more reason to love the Island, one more compelling drawcard for our tourism. Nice one.
The highlight of my afternoon has been watching older kids stop to check on my little guy any time he bails. ‘You all right, dude? You’ll get it! Keep trying!’ (Fist bump).
I also love the motley mix of mums, dogs, skaters, scooters, and, inexplicably, one guy wearing a gigantic blow-up muscle suit, all pottering around the outskirts, chatting, cheering, barking and hobnobbing, sticking plasters on scrapes, and occasionally playing psychologist when kids develop head-cramps. It’s a charming scene and all very healthy.
There’s just one curiosity, and I can’t get my head around it.
At a quick glance, I count no fewer than 170 people. Yet despite the teeming flow of humanity of all ages, I also count zero entrepreneurs selling food to them. Not even a blessed hot dog.
I’ve been there for a couple of hours now, and the hunger has set in, both for me and my boy, who is burning up calories like a French protester torching cars. I begin assessing passing seagulls in a whole new light.
Think about it. If you offered drinks and snacks to 170 people, and if only 30% of that group patronised your stand, spending £10 a piece, that would be £500 in your cash tin. More as the attendants cycle.
I mentioned it to a friend, who assures me there is a place selling sandwiches near the park, but either I couldn’t find it, or it was closed on the day. And that seems to happen often in the Island. You take your family for a stroll to a favourite weekend spot, hoping for a bite to eat while the kids play, only to find the joint closed and locked. Because who on earth requires food on a Friday afternoon? Or ice creams on a Sunday? Or bottles of water at a skatepark?
I’m baffled by the state of entrepreneurship here. Although, there is a glaring exception: I consistently see Portuguese family-run businesses open and ready to serve at any hour; and I cannot help but stand in awe of their work ethic.
Travel a little, and you’ll find places in the world where hustling traders attempt to hawk items at you on the beach, or even from street corners as you sit in traffic. Perhaps such a dynamic exists at one side of the scale.
Here, we often appear to be at the other: you’re lucky if you can find anyone to take your money – isn’t that strange? What stops an enterprising person buying a cooler-bag full of sodas and selling them? Would they run into legal ramifications? If so, perhaps we’ve located the problem.
Where are the folks who sold such things at the Battle of the Flowers? Do they not have permits for any other day?
I’ve been to several skateparks around the world. Typical of such places is the ubiquitous tuck shop, where kids can stock up on snacks. Many parks go beyond that, allowing several entrepreneurs to set up stands on the periphery, peddling ice creams and Cokes, pies and crisps, whether from caravans or over a simple trestle table. I’m partial to a freshly grilled South African-style boerewors roll myself.
So, why not do it here? In fact, what if we tried a radical idea? What if we used the park as an incubator for entrepreneurship, and allowed anyone who wished to, to set up shop and offer their wares? Right there. May the best entrepreneur win.
Here’s how you don’t do it. You don’t turn it into a government bidding process, in which interested parties must state their case before a panel. You don’t force them to prove themselves worthy to a frowning councillor who wants to know whether they get their haircut at an approved barber. You don’t have just a single aspirant prevailing and then having to complete the 12 labours of Hercules as they acquire all the correct permits and licences, before ever setting up shop.
Instead, simply throw it open, market style. ‘Come sell.’
If people need it, they’ll buy. If they don’t, that person will close shop and go home. By a process of natural attrition, (handily named ‘the free market’), only the best and most useful ones would remain.
And obviously this doesn’t mean that scoundrels could peddle cigarettes and drugs to minors. If they do, that’s a police matter. I hear La Moye is lovely this time of year.
But why prevent any aspiring entrepreneur from setting up a stand with a cooler box and umbrella, then selling soft drinks and burgers to skaters?
The counterargument might go: ‘But then loads of people would set up there.’ And the response is: ‘Exactly. That’s the point.’
Open competition promotes greater options for customers, even as it drives down prices. The best entrepreneurs – as qualified by what people actually want and need – would survive and thrive. To my mind (and stomach) that’s a win all around.
‘But next you’ll be proposing they open stores selling skateboards there.’
Great idea. We should do that too. And a coffee shop. Tell me the mums wouldn’t love one.
As for taxes? The libertarian in me is tempted to provide the ‘all taxation is immoral’ rebuttal. But how about a compromise? If your business survives there for three months, it’s a business. Then we can talk donating to the coffers. Successful start-ups are the point, and we need to incentivise their success.
One of my fondest memories from my own skateboarding days, circa 1990, was tearing up a similar concrete park in a small town called Witpoortjie. Stop me in the street and I’ll pronounce it for you. My mates and I would pool our meagre savings to buy a packet of ‘slap chips’. That’s South African for ‘thick-cut potato chips drowned in vinegar’. We’d buy them from a neighbouring Portuguese store, funny enough, then munch them straight from their pool of vinegar while we watched the other kids skating. That remains one of my richest childhood memories.
Entrepreneurship of that kind not only fulfils a need. Done creatively, it becomes a part of our childhood story.
Besides. I’d like a flipping pie.
Douglas Kruger is an award-winning professional speaker and author. He was inducted into the ‘Speakers Hall of Fame’ by the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. His books are all available via Amazon and Audible. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.