To some, an Economic Case Study may seem like a perfect way to fall asleep but to me, it is different. I do not know how yet but the idea of numbers swirling around in my head and finding out the profit, costs, revenues, etc. of a business fascinates me. This topic is important to me because I feel that if I learn these skills now, I will be able to use them later on in life as the basic principles and discipline in running your own business can be applied anywhere in the world. The thought of interacting with a business and talking about how the business started, spending a few days watching how they do business or observing a full day of work, understanding some of the skills involved in how they make their business grow and ask questions about how they price their goods and manage their expenses fills my mind with curiosity which may only fufilled with answers.
When I finally landed in Xizhou, I did not know where to start. Xizhou was made up of small businesses! As soon as I met them, my heart set on Mr. Duan and Mrs. Zhao, a sincere couple who own a potato stand in the market. I would give a million thanks if possible to them, they have made the process so much easier for me and have shared private information about their business openly. Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai both helped me just as much. Ms. Mai was a huge help when I had a lot of numbers but no idea what to do with them and Mr. Tafel for first, guiding me through the process and introducing me to Ms. Zhao and Mr. Duan.
It is important to find reliable sources when researching as you do not want to post false information on the website and release it into the world. As part of my case study, I needed to find a small business that I could look deeper into, which is where Ms. Zhao and Mr. Duan come in. They both own and run the potato stand, A Da Xiang Yang Yu (Ada Fragrant Potatoes), which I investigated for my case study. Ms. Zhao and Mr. Duan are both very reliable sources as they both know more about the business than anyone. Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai both have previous experience with Inquiry Projects so, they are able to guide me the right way. Ms. Mai also has a lot of experience with budgeting and financing, so she was able to help arrange my numbers in an organized way.
Many of my questions have to do with the business rather than the owners but throughout my journey, I have learned a lot about the owners as well. The questions reflect on my curiosity and how exactly a business is run as well as it's story. I not only focused on qualitative data but also quantitative data. I have answered most of these in Phase 3 but questions 3 and 4 will be answered in the Final Product as now, I am not sure how to put them in a sentence.
1. Do you remember anything about the business' origin?
2. What is the range between a good day's profit and a below average day's profit?
3. How is the daily wage split up? (ex. what percentage goes to debt? Improving the business? )
4. What are the working hours? Do they vary throughout the year?
5. Do you have an independent business or do you have employees?
6. If you have employees, what percentage of the profit is paid to the employees?
7. What different strategies are used to gain more business?
8. If you could start again, is there anything you wish you had done differently about your business? What?
9. What is some wisdom you would pass down to younger generations about running a small business? Any tips?
10. What do you hope for the business' future?
In order to fully understand all there is to know about a small businesses, one must consider it's story, the business itself, the process of producing it's product and the economics involved.
Sharing My Learning:
I decided to share my learning through a Keynote with a voiceover. The link to my video is above.
I have also shared my Excel Spreadsheet that I used to organize all the finances I found through my interviews. If you would like to look into the finances in detail, you may look at the potato stand's finances spreadsheet above.
There are many lesson and new experiences I have had through this experience and I have also seen and experienced some things I would not have in Shanghai. First of all, you do not get spicy potatoes in Shanghai, not that I know of anyway but I have also learned many aspects about running a small business that I would not have in my life. I am glad that I got this opportunity to learn so many new things. In Shanghai, I would not have been able to have this opportunity of sitting with a person who is running a business and talk to them. People are too busy with their lives in Shanghai to sit down and talk but here, it seems that almost anyone can do this. I have learned so much about life, and how precious it is. Also all the new lessons I thought I would learn about business, I did but except more. I learned how to organize my data, new vocabulary words and what reality is. We lived in a world of fiction that clouded us from the real world and now, I got to see it, up close. It was not just enough to see homeless people on streets or beggars with missing limbs but instead, something so simple. Xizhou.
My topic never changed throughout the process but my ideas did. At first, I had difficulty grasping the idea of a case study. According to Google, a case study is defined as a process or record of research in which detailed consideration is given to the development of a particular person, group, or situation over a period of time. When I first arrived, I thought about researching a whole industry or to compare different types of businesses but in the end, it all came down to potatoes. While industries and comparisons were good ideas, we only had one month here in Xizhou and it was better to take a swim in one water than dip my toes in 10 pools. That is where the potatoes come in, while I was looking for a business to do a case study on, Mr. T introduced me to Ms. Zhao and her potato business and my heart was set.
The most difficult part was probably finding a business that would be open, not as in open and closed, but cooperative. Some business owners do not want to share any numbers about their business therefor, making it hard to do a case study. When we first met Ms. Zhao, many relatives of hers were with her and even though we had just been introduced, they talked to us like we had known them for a week. It was one of the reasons I had my heart set on the business. Although many of the locals here were friendly and kind, they popped out. Everyday, I was excited to learn more about their business, it brought me joy. Another hard part though was to organize the numbers I had. My head was swirling with different costs, supplies, etc. but Ms. Mai helped me hugely by helping me organize the information as well as teaching me new vocabulary words I had never known about the topic. It was not because of myself that I got through the hard parts but also my mentors, Mr. T and Ms. Mai. They gave me vast amount of support, which I needed and I could not have done it without them.
An experience is never complete without epiphanies and I did have some myself. A lot of my a-ha moments happened through Excel. When I was lost between all the numbers, Ms. Mai and Excel came to the rescue. With the help of the application and Ms. Mai to help me apply my numbers, I was able to figure out numerous estimations that she probably could not have told me herself like her revenue, daily profit, etc. I was amazed with what you could do with the information. I could change one figure and the whole total would change. To me, it was mesmerizing while to others, they may not be as excited as I was. In other words, most my a-ha moments had to do with numbers like finding out her daily and monthly profit, her revenue and the start-up cost. There was one a-ha moment that I hoped would have but never did though, finding out what the mixed spice is called. Although I asked them countless times, they did not know and neither did I. I did Google searches but for the first time, Google failed me. I guess it shall always be a mystery but I hope to solve it someday.
When I first chose this topic, I was near a beginner at the topic, knowing only the basics about the topic but as I researched more and more, both on the internet and investigating the potato stand, I was fascinated the new things I learned about. I remember learning what a revenue was, using Excel and learning how to make a spreadsheet with all the information I learned. My knowledge expanded hugely by investigating a small business up close and watching their day to day actions. I was surprised by how much financing was involved in the business. I was also fascinated by the fact that I could learn only about their supplies and estimate so much like their profit, revenue, expenses, etc. In all, I feel that I have learned more than I could by researching about small businesses on my laptop.
The interaction I had with Ms. Zhao was huge as I went there almost everyday to learn about their business. Though the interaction was not personal, as the chaperone was always talking to her rather than me, I feel that I have bonded with her. I have also interacted more with the chaperones I went with as I always needed a chaperone when I went to the potato stand as I do not speak Chinese. My interactions with my chaperones became more personal as I learned more about them as they learned about my project and I. I also interacted with many other community members while looking for a small business to investigate, I learned a bit about a few more businesses and their owners by sitting with them. When I was at the lottery and was talking to Ms. Yang, I bought a few lottery tickets myself to give it a try. I feel I learned more about the business by playing both roles as a customer and a student learning about the business.
The more I learned about the business, the more I realized how much I loved the topic I was doing. At first, I did the topic as an experiment, to see that if I would like the topic and if I would find it interesting. I found that as I researched deeper into my projects, the more excited I would get. My reactions surprised me as at first, my intentions were to learn what it took to run a business but I learned much more. I learned what kind of person you had to be in order to run a successful business and what it took to run one.
I would tell myself to learn at least some Chinese phrases as it was a bit hard to build a relationship on a personal level if you are not interacting with her yourself. I would maybe read up and memorize some simple phrases with which I could interact with Ms. Zhao and other members of the community. I would also go out and want to explore more businesses other than the potato stand. I only interviewed a few other than Ms. Zhao so, if I were to start again I would want to interview more business owners as well as learn a few simple Chinese phrases I could have used to interact with locals on a personal level.
If my project were to be continued by either someone else or myself, I would want to use the information I have to elaborate on a previous idea I had. Previously, I thought about comparing businesses from different industries but I realized after my 3-5's that I would need more than a month in order to complete the idea. If my project were to continue on, I would use that same idea and elaborate on it. I would choose 2 more small businesses from different industries and learn about them before comparing the businesses.
Finally, I would like to thank a few people. First, my parents for supporting me through my project and the journey of Microcampus. The Dynamite group for buying potatoes from Ms. Zhao and Mr. Duan :) Mr. T for guiding me through the process and introducing me to Ms. Zhao. Ms. Mai for supporting me and also helping me arrange all my data. My friends for helping me through this process and too all the chaperones (Ms. Mai, Mr. T, Fay, XiaoTang and Annelise) for coming with me during my visits to the potato stand and help to translate. I would also like to give many thanks to Ms. Zhao and Mr. Duan for welcoming me with open arms and cooperating with me smoothly for my project. Thank you to everyone who helped me as part of my journey during Microcampus.