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The Broken Road – Business Frustration/Failure

Costa Rica – Jaco is about an hour and a half from San Jose and is the closest tourist beach from the capital of Costa Rica. I had to get some businesses on board for the discount card program and this seemed like the most viable option to get that accomplished. I had a few friends out in the area and an inexpensive place to stay while I tried to knock out the town. Being that the entire town is about a 1 to 2 mile strip, I could get a lot done in a short period of time.

jaco beach costa ricaVery quickly the businesses jumped on board. The easiest part was the fact that a majority of the business owners were gringos. Most of the owners spoke English and understood the concept. Adding on to the fact that the program was free for them to join, they immediately said yes. Over about a two week period of running from business to business, we had close to 50 businesses in Jaco alone that had joined the program. I finally had a little bit of hope that this might actually work.

After the 2 week jaunt in Jaco, I returned to San Jose to get the website updated with all the new businesses as well as put together the Jaco brochure for the program. Within another 2 weeks period, Jaco was ready to launch. The site was ready and the articles had been approved, the brochures were complete and ready to be handed out, the displays were ready to be placed at the register of the businesses and the discount card was valid at just about every popular place in town. How could this not work? Let me count the ways…

Upon arrival back to Jaco I needed to place displays at each business that had signed up for the program. Although the managers had approved their involvement, most had forgotten and wanted to talk to me more about it. Although frustrating, it was just something I had to overcome. The next hurdle was the fact that a majority of the discounts offered were already offered to locals. Being that I was not living in the area I had no prior access to this information. Although this might cut down on sales a little, I knew that 100’s of Costa Ricans came to the beach each weekend and the sales could be made.

With all businesses informed and displays in place, it was time to begin sales. The cards were going to be $20 each and valid for about 6 months. This meant that if they used them once a month for about 4 months they would get their money back. Again, this seemed like a no brainer to me but remember this is Costa Rica. I had gringos tell me that they would not use it as “they did not want to seem cheap.” I had ticos tell me that “they would have $20 in about 3 weeks, come back then.” I did not understand at all. Both ticos and gringos complain about high prices and saving money, but yet when an opportunity to reduce their daily living expenses came into fruition they did not want to partake in that option. I knew then that perhaps I did not know the market at all or maybe trying to start this program in Costa Rica was just not possible.

I recruited 2 sales people while in the area and offered them both a 50 to 75% commission on card sales depending onlazy sales people how many they were able to offload each week. They were also allowed to keep the money on the first 5 cards which enabled them to have some quick cash. However, as it is with many employees in Costa Rica, cash is not a motivating element…perhaps alcohol and weed would have been good for these two.

I am not a micromanager, but in most cases in Costa Rica if you are not looking over someone’s shoulder and ensuring that they are actually doing work, then it does not get accomplished. I arrived back in San Jose to try to start bringing in business in the university areas in order to go after that market. I knew thousands of kids each night went out into the Heredia and San Pedro areas and they were always trying to save money. Jaco was placed in the incapable hands of the 2 sales people that had showed they were motivated in the interview, but after a week I knew there were problems.

Sharon the older of the sales people, a retired woman with a long history of sales and marketing experience had wanted to be VP of the company. It did not require any change in commissions or salary which did not exist, so I said sure. Titles do not mean anything to me. Immediately I started hearing stories about her drinking habits and her loud obnoxious behavior in public when intoxicated. Considering she started drinking each day at about noon, there was not much sober time for her for sales.

Sharon did have the good idea of giving the cards away for free to about 100 locals so the businesses started seeing the cards and accepting them. While the idea was sound, her way of accomplishing this was not. She gave the cards to a taxi driver and told him to hand them out to people he knew. It might have worked if he actually understood what he was giving away and was motivated to do so…he was neither. So, 100 cards basically were gone and $2000 in potential revenue lost. Not a great way to start sales.

The other sales guy, Brian was a little wet behind the ears but had the desire to make money. I was not looking for the best and the brightest; I was looking for a hard worker with friends that would use the cards themselves. Only problem was it seemed like he had attention deficit disorder. He could only seem to work about 2 hours at a time without being distracted. The fact that he loved to party did not help either. One of his first demands was a cell phone which I bought for about $40 and gave to him so I could be in touch and have updates. The first night that he had the phone he got drunk and jumped in a pool.

Both sales people wanted salaries after 2 weeks of not making sales and not really ever trying. Please explain how anyone deserves a salary after proving they cannot do the job? I guess that is the way the world is heading, people wanting things for nothing; an entitled attitude which leads to laziness and apathy. This attitude seems to exist everywhere in the world now as multiple people I have met have told me the same thing is happening in the USA.

I truly thought that if I added enough places into the program it would be impossible for anyone to not want to use one of these cards. I added about 40 places in San Jose myself. It was much easier to convince people when there were over business-failure50 other businesses that were a part of the program and we had an actual brochure for Jaco. I even went with a buddy of mine to Playas del Coco and knocked out the town in 2 days. The total enrollment in the program was over 125 businesses and discounts ranged from about $3 to $200 for tours and sport fishing. It was time for me to focus on sales.

It had been about 5 weeks since I had been in Jaco so I returned to try to start sales in that location. Being that I do not like selling anything until I know that is actually functioning, I did my drive byes and trials at the different businesses. A buddy of mine and I went to a few restaurants and none of them accepted the card as they did not know what it was. The same was true of the hotels. Because of the high turnover rate of employees at most businesses, the new employees were never trained or told about the card. About 70% of the displays had been taken down and a few business owners even said they no longer wanted to be a part of the program as they had not seen business. I do not blame the owners as I know they probably had to focus on watching over their personal employees shoulders on a daily basis and it does not leave much time for anything else.

There comes a point when you are starting a business anywhere that you say enough is enough. Although the idea was sound and functions very nicely in the USA with City Pass and other discount card programs, Costa Rica does not have what is needed in place for it to work. It was time to focus on other revenue generating ideas to pay the rent and put money in my pocket. The discount card idea was dead for now. It is hard for me to give up on something and to admit defeat, but after about 5 months it had to be done. You can only slam your head against a brick wall so many times before you realize it is causing more harm than good.

Next Up – Internal Anger & Demons Awaken

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