Interview: Dominic Hadeed

How has the recent uptick in economic activity affected the strategy of domestic producers?

DOMINIC HADEED: The increase in economic activity in Trinidad and Tobago is not across the board, rather it is industry dependent, meaning some producers excel while others continue to struggle. As is the case worldwide, if retailers fail to keep up with changes in technology or changes in the nature of consumption – such as online capabilities taking hold – their businesses will suffer. The arrival of the millennial generation has also affected business strategies. Job-seekers are moving away from traditional, vocational jobs, such as teachers, architects, lawyers and engineers, and shifting to more attractive industries, causing a surge in innovative and unique restaurants, more tech offerings and a distinct style of retail. Consequently, businesses must transition and react to changes in market and competitor demands.

Nonetheless, the fundamentals of working in the Caribbean have not changed. Honesty still plays an important role in marketing, particularly in the food and drinks industry, where transparency is critical and health claims must be evidence based. Multinationals often make the mistake of trying to market international products when they come here, when in reality the Caribbean customer has their own tastes and preferences. A prominent trend in the drinks market is the avoidance of sugar, whereby products have evolved from containing high levels of sugar and empty calories.

In which ways has technology affected retail?

HADEED: Technology has irreversibly changed the retail landscape: everybody is online and almost everyone orders from e-commerce websites. The commoditisation of basic businesses has begun, and although customer service remains paramount, if there is not enough choice at the right price point, consumers will jump online to make their purchases. Retail space has become less reliable. Therefore, more landowners will shift towards mixed space, offering restaurants, entertainment and residential under one roof. Gone are the days of pure retail spaces: domestic producers must move with the times. Multinationals no longer need middle men to access the Caribbean market. Instead, they can find experienced local operators who may lack the latest technical expertise but make up for it in local knowledge and lower overhead costs. There is a sizeable opportunity for global retailers to connect with local partners to operate in T&T. We have seen the arrival of brands such as Aéropostale, Sketchers, Victoria’s Secret, Aldo and Converse using this method. Retailers are dealing directly with local operators, as opposed to dealing with middlemen in Panama.

What are the benefits of the creation of the T&T Revenue Authority (TTRA)?

HADEED: The TTRA will level the playing field and intends to set the record straight regarding potential questionable practices in T&T. Those in the business community that are playing within the rules will welcome the new authority with open arms, while those who engage in dishonest practices will need to rethink their strategies. A key side benefit of the authority’s implementation is that it should lead to the abolishment of smaller and sometimes menial taxes that slow business activity. Although the government must guarantee inbound revenue, if money is taxed correctly and spent wisely we could see the removal of this type of tax.

Why should businesses looking to enter Guyana take advantage of T&T’s regional expertise?

HADEED: For certain businesses, particularly oil and gas, it is practical to leverage the expertise of the T&T business diaspora, who have 100 years of experience working and building successes in small and difficult markets under challenging bureaucracy. T&T firms have the basis, the manpower, the trading contacts, and, most importantly, the schooling and education for the family members of those looking to come over.