By Priya Prakash

“A society that cannot manage its many cultures cannot amount to much because it is, by definition, a society that cannot harness the energy of its constituents” – Joseph Assaf

From Sidney Myer who arrived in Australia in 1899 as a ‘penniless Russian migrant’, Henry Ngai of ABC Tissues, a winner of the recent Ethnic Business Awards, to Bing Lee – a Chinese migrant whose start-up business Bing Lee Electronics has grown to 40 plus stores in NSW – these are but a few of the many migrant stories that awe, inspire and embody human grit and achievement.

In Australia, over 30% of small business operators were born overseas according to the 2006-2007 Census.

During the past few decades, there has been a vast upward trend in business establishments among ethnic communities and immigrants. As we dabble with the current trends in ethnic businesses, there are many questions that raise our curiosity. Questions like, ‘why do migrant businesses have higher success rates?’ and ‘to which sector or industry of business do specific community groups belong?’ Surprisingly, the answers almost always challenge our preconceptions.

Ethnic business ownership traditionally known to have a strong presence in Wholesale, Retail and the Food and Beverage industry is now spread across the economy, with a domineering presence in real estate, technology (ICT), health, finance, entertainment, media and tourism sectors to name a few. Gone are the days when ethnic precincts such as Sydney and Melbourne’s Chinatown and Little Italy were the only domains of ethnic businesses. Today, ethnic businesses are spread across Australia in major cities, towns and regional centers.

What does this mean to marketers? Quite simply, a world of opportunity! The future for marketers in Australia is undoubtedly brighter and more promising than it has ever been. However, it is important to note that ethnic businesses are very different from their non-immigrant counterparts. Highlighted below are some of the key variants or cultural insights noteworthy of ethnic business ownership in Australia, particularly Asian businesses which affirms the need for a unique strategy when marketing to this audience.

Highly Relationship oriented
Most ethnic businesses like to do business with someone they know and hence relationships form a key part of their operations. Networking is an important aspect, where business councils and professional networks play a significant role.

Cultural Influence
Migrants carry with them their cultural influence and a passion for success to survive the sometimes tough assimilation process. For example, Indians and Chinese have a high percentage of business ownership owing to their cultural influences, because to them, ‘owning your own business is a symbol of being successful and the family is there as a support’.

Community media
Information about their countries of origin are accessed through their community websites and media. Mainstream media does not deliver the details they would be looking for. The majority of ethnic businesses are strongly linked to their countries of origin. In the Asian Century, these links will only strengthen in the future.

Greater rate of survival
Ethnic small businesses tend to have a greater rate of survival because of their ‘collective’ characteristic (use of family/co-ethnic members and personal savings to support the business).

Sense of pride and ownership
The tendency to go an extra mile to meet the day to day challenges is common among ethnic businesses. For example, average working hours per week are approximately 8-10+ hours longer than non-immigrant counterparts.

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