Come last Tuesday evening, most of Taiwan was in shutdown mode. The New Year of the Rabbit, by the lunar (or lunisolar) calendar, was due to begin on Thursday, so most people were preparing to head for family reunion dinners on Wednesday night.
A short 5 days later, and yesterday was the day when everything got back to normal. Businesses that have been quiet over the longest break of the year open their doors. Most will encourage good luck and good fortune through the appropriate rituals: the sounds of chains of firecrackers going off can be heard everywhere.
It’s this time of the year that really gives you time to think over recent trends and events. It is also a time to look ahead. For me it means that the Taipei Cycle Show is only a few short weeks away.
New products to be launched need to be finalized enough time in advance in order that attention to every detail can be maintained.
Whether it’s a frame fatigue testing machine you are after, or that light-toned magenta brake cable end-cap that you know will be there somewhere, or the very latest in bicycle design thinking, the various levels of the Nangang Exhibition Hall are the places to be mid-March.
Products of all shapes and sizes in multiple incarnations– as brands vie to outdo, or simply keep up with, each other — are the attention grabbers. But these are only the tip of the iceberg. What is actually on display and is put up for judgement by the market is the processes that lead to there being any products at all. Businesses supplying each other in multitudes of consumer-producer relationships make it all possible.
In all of the focus on production, “consumption” is what gets forgotten. And here I’m thinking of the end-users, the people who ride bikes. Without cyclists, there is no industry. Or in other words, with no consumers there is no economy — consumption takes around 65% of GDP in a balanced economy (exports somewhere around 10%).
Taiwan’s domestic bicycle boom 2006-2008 peaked in 2008. While the rest of the world economy went into decline and Taiwan’s export sector went into steep decline, the domestic bicycle sector was red hot. Although the bicycle export sector was not hit as hard as other sectors, it suffered a degree of decline not reflected in local market conditions.
With 2010, however, the domestic market had chilled right down to 1/3rd of 2008 levels. This evaporation of enthusiasm for bicycles and cycling seems to have been visible during the New Year holiday break just passed. Despite 5 days of cloudless skies and temperatures in the low 20’s, there were very few cyclists out and about. In previous years it really seemed to be more.
Roads that are normally reasonably quiet at other times were, on the other hand, packed with cars as families took the opportunity to go on day trips.
I wonder how much this has got to do with an industry and working culture that emphasizing time in production and not consumption. The working month still means a six-day week twice a month. It also means a lot of, often unpaid, overtime and real wages that are at levels they were 2o years ago.
Being a productive worker is valued highly just about everywhere in the world. Not much is said, though, about being a good consumer, except maybe when in the middle of a deep recession mention will be made of weak levels of consumer confidence. Confident consumers spend money. When they are too spend-thrift, you get boom times, and the opposite when they more carefully watch their spending.
Leisure time, or time away from “productive” activities, supports broad-based consumption in so many ways. There is time to explore personal development options that you wont be able to if you don’t love your day job as much as you’d like, or others think you should. That exploration usually means spending money and one person’s expenses are someone else’s income.
In Taiwan, leisure-time is being consumed in more complex ways, in quantity and quality. I just wonder if a more leisure-friendly business culture may have led to a sustained increase in cycling rather than a craze that peaked then crashed.
Whatever the answer, the bicycle industry which will be on display in Taipei next month, like so much of Taiwan’s industry, will be focused outwards towards the world. Wherever speculating about what could have been or might be in the future might take you, there is no doubt that right now the current focus makes absolutely perfect economic sense.