What I Learned From Getting Ripped Off by a Bangkok Tailor
1. 2. Offer something unique.
2. 3. Study the market.
3. 4. Don't rely on gimmicks.
4. 5. Be assertive, but not aggressive.
At the time, I thought I was getting an incredible deal. It was only after I stared at the number that I realized I had probably paid around $100 too much.
I spent the second week of my vacation to southeast Asia in Thailand. After receiving some great tips from a student I met on a Bangkok street, I was whisked away by my personal tuk tuk (a three-wheeled vehicle commonly found in Asia) driver to a rather impressive tailor shop. As soon as I walked through the shop's doors, I felt special.
The salesman welcomed me and offered me a complimentary beverage. I asked for a Singha beer, and in a quick moment another man brought me an unopened can and cracked it open. As I sipped on my new favorite brand of beer, the salesman showed me assorted fabrics in various patterns for some custom-made shirts.
This guy was smooth. He made me feel like both a valued customer and a friend at the same time. I ultimately ordered seven shirts, two pairs of pants, three scarves (as presents for the women in my life) and two ties. I had never purchased custom clothing, and I felt a little like a movie star getting my measurements taken. It felt great knowing I'd get some clothes that actually fit me perfectly.
Then the bill came. Close to $600. I said that seemed like a lot. That's when the salesman threw in the extra pair of pants. I agreed to the price, gave my credit card and off I went.
Later, I realized I probably paid too much. Ultimately, though, I didn't care. I had a pleasant experience in this shop, and the clothes were quality and fit me well. I walked away with not only a new wardrobe, but also the biggest lesson that I realized during my time in Asia:
1. Businesses that treat customers well and provide positive experiences can charge a premium.
Here are four other business lessons I was reminded of during my trip.
This was particularly a problem in Laos, where I spent the first week of my vacation. On streets both in the capital of Vientiane and miles outside of the city, you'll find numerous shops right next to each other that sell the same assortments of food, beverages and other goods. Many of the stores even have similar signs. “How do these businesses attract customers?” I wondered.
Lesson: Always make sure you and your business stand out from your competitors. If your offering isn't unique, make sure your marketing is.
Upon arriving at Khao San Road, the famous backpacker street in Bangkok, I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the merchants and large crowds. There is an assortment of things to buy on this tourist-friendly street, such as clothes, food and Henna tattoos. Several people were walking around with crispy scorpions on sticks. I just had to try one.
The scorpion salesman told me the price was 150 baht (about 35 baht equals a dollar). I came back at him with an offer of 100 baht. He agreed. I took my scorpion and munched on it. The salesman most likely walked away a happy man.
You see, things in Thailand are cheap. It wasn't until later that I realized you can get a full dinner for about 50 baht, so yeah, I got ripped off with my first purchase in Bangkok.
Lesson: Do your research and know the value of things so you don't waste precious funds.
One of the more interesting places that I visited in Thailand was the floating market of Damnoen Saduak. There, patrons board long-tail paddle boats and are whisked around to various shops on the canal. It's an amazing and beautiful experience. The one thing I didn't see, though, is anyone actually purchasing any goods.
So despite an amazing gimmick, and a literal hook to pull in customers, not many people were opening their wallets.
Lesson: It's one thing to get customers through your doors. It's another for them to actually give you their business.
In Bangkok, you'll find tuk tuk drivers everywhere, and man, do they want your business. I was standing in the street eating some amazing pad Thai, and a driver asked me if I needed a ride. Really? Can't you see I'm eating?
As I walked around Bangkok, drivers would follow me down the street or casually strike up conversations with me, pretending to be helpful before revealing they were a tuk tuk driver and wanted to chauffeur me around -- for a high price, of course. These guys were so aggressive, I quickly grew sick of their tactics and just starting ignoring all of them completely.Lesson: Be assertive and gain customers’ attention, but stop way short of annoying them.