Whew! Dodged that one. We may be slightly above our heads in home ownership, and we had to learn the hard way that we’re not boat people, but at least we came to our senses about becoming entrepreneurs on an island that’s fairly remote. Here are some observations we’ve made over the years.
- Having a business as your sole source of income is a risky proposition on an island. From the get-go, we saw that islanders are jugglers of this and that. We laughed about the sign we saw on our first trip that offered “Plumbing and Beauty Supplies,” but later saw the sense of it. It’s a small place, and when demand for one type of goods or service dips, it’s insurance to have something else to take up the slack.
- Grand schemes are an invitation to disaster, unless there’s a grand investment, which invites the same. Starting small and working upward seems to work best. Before Josh McIntosh built and opened his corner bar, he sold beers out of a van with refrigeration. Smart start.
- The whole thing is difficult, damnably difficult, even if you were born on the island and have a supportive family. The government has its hoops for you to jump through, and I’ve written before about getting things done legally on the island. “A” has to be in place before “B” and “C,” but when you get to “C,” time has expired on “A” and you have to start over.
- There will be competition. There is probably already competition that you just don’t know about. We wondered for a while why islanders are so secretive about their business plans, but then realized that there’s a good reason: copycats. One person would build a block of apartments for foreign workers, and then suddenly there was construction of apartment blocks all over the island. Three car rental services blossoms to nine within a year. One person rents a couple of kayaks, and then suddenly there are kayak rentals everywhere.
- Partnerships are often poison. Local partnerships, arising most often out of the need for seed cash, are fraught with mutual suspicion, family dynamics and differences that often date back for decades. Expat-local partnerships, arising from both economics and government decree, can fall apart easily unless expectations are worked out in advance. There are exceptions, of course, but they are exceptional exceptions.
- Jealousies abound. You would think that mutual support would be part of such a small community, and the local entrepreneur would be encouraged. Wrong. Probably the hardest thing a local business owner will encounter, beyond the government hoops, is the attitude of “Who do you think you are?” That’s why having tourists and expats as a customer base, however shaky that can be, seems to be a better idea than depending on other islanders to buy your pizza, hire you to paint a house, or get a haircut.
I realize that by even typing Number Six, I may face a barrage of “Who do you think you are?” and accusations of stereotyping. But Number Six is also the reason that the news I share today is so astonishing and uplifting: There has been a business merger on North Caicos. Three car-rental agencies, Al’s Rent A Car, Nick’s Rent A Car and Pelican Rentals, have merged to become Twin Island Adventures.
I see more in this news than a mere business merger. To this observer, it seems that cooperation has finally won over competition, freeing North and Middle Caicos from old grumbles that managed to keep everyone down and struggling.
I know I said that partnerships can be poison. But I applaud this one, which seems to be based in true business practices rather than misunderstood assumptions. Bravo! And good luck.