Monday, March 10, 2008

28 Business Ideas for Entrepreneurs in Panama

Panama is booming, with real estate projects going up everywhere and immigrants flooding in from the USA, Europe and South America (particularly Venezuela and Colombia). Panama City is a sprawling metropolis struggling to make an awkward transformation from third-world to first world. There are many people with money, but there's a dearth of high-end services to meet their needs. There's a flood of gringos coming in, but outside the areas of real estate and law, there's a shortage of agencies and services to help them settle in.

This creates many business opportunities here in Panama.

These first eight ideas come from halloranc at Panama Travels, and I'll follow them up with some comments and ideas of my own:

8 Money Making Ideas for Entrepreneurs in Panama

1. Convert Condo to Condo-Hotel — There simply are not enough hotel rooms in Panama City. I run a travel agency and see this first-hand. Scarier still is that there are scant new hotels even in construction, much less nearing completion. So while supply is scarce, prices are rising sky high for room nights at average hotels as demand rises. A fantastic opportunity exists for an investor or developer to purchase several floors of a condo or an older 8-10 unit building and convert it to a condo-hotel. Several smart investors have already done so with great success.

2. A Surf and Water Sports Shop — Sure there area few in the mall in the city, but where’s the nice surfboard repair, bikini, and sunscreen shop at THE BEACH? With as many projects going up in the Santa Clara area, it would sure seem like the first guy to build a proper shopping center catering to tourists would make a bundle. At least that’s how it went in Costa Rica…

3. An Ultra High End Casino-Hotel — The Veneto is well…kinda nice. But the service is pretty shabby, a lot of the common areas are poorly kept and the casino is a gong show. With the high roller money pouring into Panama, it would seem a no-brainer to build a super swanky and exclusive hotel/casino in Panama City. Until then, I’ll have to roll the dice while hearing live salsa music blaring at a volume of “11″.

4. Earth Moving Equipment Rental — It’s hard to even find a backhoe in Panama City right now, much less in more remote locations. With all the construction and land improvement going on, a quality provider of heavy equipment and likely, equipment operators, would net a king’s ransom.

5. Pool Services — There are no firms that I know of who are strictly in the business of design, construction and maintenance of swimming pools. I’ve seen dozens of fantastic and original swimming pools at hotels and homes in Costa Rica, but cannot name three in Panama.

6. Hospitality Training — Wow, does Panama ever need this. From simple “please and thank you” to, “how to handle an angry client”, Panama desperately needs some outside training.

7. Ad Agency/PR Firm — Tons of local businesses are attempting to get their message out to the world, but as confused, misspelled, poorly translated and very often, off-target as the messages are…one can safely assume that talented PR and Advertising consulting would be a hit.

8. Buy Remote Land — Pretty simple advice and one that certainly should entail an entire series of articles. In short, if you have a some cash to invest and know what you are doing, prices seem likely to rise over the next 5-10 years.

I agree with all of the above points, though with regards to number 6 (hospitality training) and number 7 (ad agency), I think you might first have to convince Panamanian businesses that poor hospitality and poorly written ads are indeed hurting their business, and that they could make more money by spending a little on the problem. The fact is that poor customer service and weak attention to detail are simply an accepted part of the culture here and most Panamanians don't view it as a problem.
More Money Making Ideas for Entrepreneurs in Panama

I'll add some of my own business ideas for entrepreneurs in Panama, in no particular order:

9. Employment Agency - providing domestic help to gringos. Many Americans and Europeans arrive here not knowing the language or the culture, but needing some household help right away. Often they end up hiring someone who works poorly, charges too much, or steals from them. There is a need for an agency to provide newcomers here with screened and qualified maids, nannies, gardeners, caretakers, and drivers.

10. Limousine Service - I have seen only one limo in all my time here in Panama. I don't think the problem is the traffic, it's just that there is no perceived need for it. This is one of those instances where providing the service creates the need. There is plenty of money here in Panama. If you can plant the idea in people's heads that certain special occasions require a limo, pretty soon everyone will want one.

11. Quality Furniture in the Interior - Right now quality furniture is available only in Panama city. Furniture in the interior tends to be very rustic, handmade in primitive workshops and sold on the road. But there are growing ex-pat communities in interior cities like La Chorrera, Coronado, Penonomé, and Santiago, and I'm sure these people would rather buy quality furniture locally rather than truck it all the way from Panama.

12. Interior Decorator - Particularly for the new luxury apartments in Punta Pacifica and Costa del Este (Spanish speaking market) and the luxury beach developments in places like Playa Blanca and Rio Mar (English speaking market).

13. Ethnic Food - There is a glaring absence in Panama city of quality Mexican food (or even better, Tex-Mex!), Thai, Vietnamese, or gourmet North-American style burgers. Actually, I suspect a good burger joint could quickly open branches all over the country and make good money.

14. Pet Services - In the past there was not much of a pet culture in Panama, and it still doesn't really exist in the interior, but in Panama city pet ownership is growing rapidly and people are spending more and more money on their dogs in particular. I think there's a market for high-end pet services like dog grooming parlors, luxury kennels ("pet hotels"), and special pet items like outfits, gourmet treats, jeweled collars, etc.

15. Food Processing or Manufacturing - this is not my area of expertise, but I've noticed that although Panama has a thriving agricultural industry, most processed foods are imported from Costa Rica, Colombia, the USA and China. I suspect that there is a huge untapped market for food processing and manufacturing, both for the domestic and international market. Chocolate, for example. Panama has grown cocoa for hundreds of years and more farmers are planting it every day because the price of cocoa is high. The cocoa is exported to other countries who turn it into chocolate for the international market.

Don't Panamanians eat chocolate? Of course. Go into any Farmacia Arrocha and you'll see chocolate bars from the USA, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands. But Panama, which grows the beans, does not manufacture chocolate.

16. Spanish Schools - nearby countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica have scores of Spanish immersion schools, where students of all ages come from North America and Europe and spend anywhere from one month to one year at the school, studying Spanish for up to six hours per day. Panama, however, has only three such schools that I am aware of (Spanish Panama, ILERI, and another that I can't remember). Why? Panama has locations that are just as good as any in Costa Rica. How about El Vallé, where students could explore the forest and many other attractions in their off-hours? How about a Spanish & surf school on the Pacific coast? Or Spanish & dive school on the Caribbean?

17. Offshore Web Development Services - there are a number of good web development companies operating in Panama, several of them based in the City of Knowledge. However, they seem to focus on the Panamanian market only. As far as I know no one is catering to the North American market, which is too bad since labor costs here are low and a good web development firm here could capture some of the business that is currently being outsourced to India and China.

18. Bilingual Education - There is a growing need for quality, private bilingual education, from pre-school all the way through University level. And not only in Panama city, either. More and more expat families are settling in the interior, and middle class Panamanians in the interior need options like this as well.

19. Courier Service - It's true that Panamanians like to take their time with things. What's the hurry? But the number of North American & European expat communities along the Panama-Penonomé corridor is growing, and these folks might appreciate a reliable same-day or overnight courier service that could do any of the following:
  • Pick up mail or packages in Panama city and deliver them to coastside communities.
  • Deliver documents to lawyers or banks in the city.
  • Buy requested items (or even do a full-fledged shopping trip) in Panama city and deliver.
With the rising price of gasoline, a day trip into the city to do any of these things is cost prohibitive. A courier service could use fuel-efficient mopeds and small vehicles to keep costs low.

These last 10 ideas come from Enilda Watson, writing for the American Chronicle (see the original here). I have added my comments in italics after each idea:

10 More Panama Business Ideas:
19. Language Tutoring: With a total investment as low as $2,000 you can start running a language tutoring business. English for executives and tutorials to enter U.S. universities are in high demand, as well as for call center agents. You do not need to rent an office or furniture, you can go to people’s offices or houses for an hour or two a day. This arrangement will only require a small investment, and it will also put you in contact with other prospective clients and allow you to offer other services. (I agree that the need is overwhelming, but I'm not sure you could charge enough to make it worth your time. Perhaps Ms. Watson could have elaborated on the "other services" that one might offer).

20. A Tour Leader Company: You know what tourists like and expect in order to enjoy an unforgettable experience. In Panama, there are all kinds of things to see, places to go, things to shop for and unspoiled beaches to visit, so the opportunities are there for the taking. An investment of $8,000.00 for a small office, renting a car, and a lot of Internet marketing and hotel contacts are needed at the beginning, but referrals in this business are high and you should have a growing clientele in a short time. If you are friendly and like meeting new and interesting people every week and enjoy guiding them around the country, this could be your opportunity. (Yes, I think there is a lot of room for growth in the tour industry, particularly for someone who can market himself/herself).

21. Setting up a Restaurant: If you like cooking and mingling with people, opening a restaurant is an excellent option for you. The Liquor licenses could be expensive, but a Bring-Your-Own-Wine Bohemian Bistro has the smell of success in any part of Panama. To keep your investment to a minimum, you can look for a partner and start by renting a small place with no more than 30 seats. Parking space is of importance, and house courtesies will give you great word-of-mouth advertising. Most entrepreneurs are not wealthy, so, avoid investing too much in decorations, and use your resources for flyers and other forms of direct marketing. (Agreed, I mentioned this one in my list).

22. Business Consulting: If your expertise is in marketing, finance, logistics or technology, there are more than 20,000 small and medium enterprises that could use your experience and advice. Approximate for $6,000.00 or even less, you can rent an office, get a license to operate, buy a computer, office furniture, purchase a business database, and prepare your brochure and introductory letter. Panamanians like to do business with people they know face to face, so you can start getting appointments with members of AMCHAM, professional associations and friends and can serve as referrals. (Just realize that business is done very differently here. It's all about who you know. To succeed at this you must be good at networking and making friends. Also, Panamanians do not have the same concept of punctuality, and are not accustomed to moving quickly in business deals, so you'll need to be very patient and learn to adjust to the culture here).

23. The Import-Export Business: Panama is an excellent service-provider. If you are able to obtain the representation of some products or services, you will be able to market them in all Latin America. For this you will need to invest in office equipment and some databases, but avoid having any inventory, and the credit responsibility should lie with the manufacturer. You should just have to sell and get your commission. Panama is the hearth of the Americas and as you know your home market and have the contacts for some export-quality Panamanian products. Helping exports, from hot sauces to craftsmen’s products, could get you dollars and recognition in Panama. (Agreed. Many opportunities here).

24. Event Organizer: In Panama has need of professional event organizers, so if you are good planning things, have a touch of glamour and can take care of details, you can try this. From parties, weddings, product launches and business meetings, there are very few people specialized in this area, and practically none outside Panama City. You will only need to develop relations with multinational companies, advertising agencies and hotel personnel. This is a business that you can run from your home and outsource all requirements. Your investment of $5,000.00 for a computer, an e-mail database and lots of business cards should be enough to start. You must schedule a month in which you should personally visit a minimum of four prospective clients per day. Thereafter, the guests at your first events should become your biggest promotional asset. (I don't know much about this. See my comments on point number 4 above. Nepotism is an accepted practice here.)

25. The Nursery Option: If you like kids and have experience dealing with them, Panama has a big need of bilingual nurseries. With $7,000.00 or less you can rent a house, hire a teacher and an assistant and purchase the basic furniture and games. You should also invest in some flyers for pediatrician’s offices and be in contact with area schools that usually start at the kindergarten level. (Sure. Similar to my idea about bilingual education).

26. The Golf Pro: There are less than ten Panamanian golf pros trained to teach this sport. So if you love golf and are good at it, this is an opportunity to start a career you can brag about to your friends at home. The initial investment will be in being trained on how to teach and to get some kind of certification. After that, you will be sought by hundreds of locals and foreigners that dream of improving their game without their golf buddies knowing. Night lessons on ranges will become popular. (No idea. Sounds plausible).

27. The Scout: If you love soccer, baseball or basketball, and know how to recognize great athletes, you can become a scout for your favorite university or professional team. There is a lot of untouched talent in many sports, and Panama has a disproportionate number of world-class jockeys and boxers. Your major investment would be your time. Try this! (Again, no idea... anyone tried this?)

28. A Garden Expert: There are plenty of lawns to mow and gardens to take care of, but not enough professional services in this area, especially in the countryside of Panama City. The cost of labor is low, and year round contracts will be the rule. Your start-up investment for equipment probably should not exceed $6,000. You may focus your efforts on small, well-to-do communities, and you should have all your business by the end of the first year. (Yes, or see my idea about an employment agency providing maids, gardeners, etc).

I am sure that you readers have some great ideas of your own. How about sharing them here?


Selling Computer Ex-rental Equipment said...

Rental industry has been a booming business nowadays. Having it as a business can gain income right away as to numbers of people who considered it already is increasing.

henrylow said...

Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.