“Kuya, Pa-Extend Ng 15 minutes!”
The Life and Times of An Internet Cafe Owner
“ Kuya, Pa-extend ng 15 minutes !” ….howls a few of my customers who were nearing the end of a vicious match with a rival clan online. They were playing a popular Online game, and their team was ahead by only a few points. There were several spectators in the shop. Some were cheering with enthusiasm and anticipating success, some were just silently awaiting the outcome…..and finally, after a few more minutes, the crowd suddenly goes wild! Sure enough, the group announced their win with fervor,…the spectators were patting the players on the back, and everyone on the team were seemingly on cloud nine.
This is just one of those typical days inside an Internet Cafe. Sometimes, its several people of all walks of life either chatting with their friends or relatives abroad, updating their social networking sites status, levelling up their online game characters, jobhunting online, researching for a report, watching streaming videos, adding an entry in their blog, and a myriad of other things made possible by the Internet. The things that one can do in an Internet Cafe are simply countless. That is why the things that could happen is countless as well.
As proprietors or owners of an Internet Cafe or LAN Shop, we definitely have plenty of interesting stories to tell. A lot of things are worth mentioning , but let me begin from the grass roots by giving you some insights on how the business usually starts, some of its positive and negative aspects , the variety of complementing side-businesses, and how we see the business several years from now.
“Kuya, pa-rent…open time !”
Nowadays, the business has become one of the most popular choices among starting entrepreneurs or businessmen. There is now an Internet Cafe in almost every street, and quite a number of them near schools and commercial areas. There is also a big chance that there is already one in your neighborhood, even at residential areas, situated at one portion of the house, usually at the garage or a part of the living room. It’s availability is competing to that of the common “sari-sari” or variety store. The business really seems lucrative enough to many peoples perspective probably because of the crowd that it draws, several choices of reasonably-priced computer hardware available, many Internet Service Providers with affordable Internet connection, and easy access to a wide array of programs and utilities.
Needless to say, we can open up an Internet Cafe almost anywhere. The market may be better near the colleges and universities, but expect a greater number of similar businesses existing within the surrounding areas. Thus, its our choice whether to compete with many or take a pioneering spirit somewhere not yet saturated.
“ Kuya, laaaagggggg!”
Choosing the right hardware and software, and the appropriate Internet connection is critical in our operation. If our target market is only the Internet crowd like surfers, chatters, bloggers, etc, then a computer with moderate specifications would be enough, installed with instant messaging softwares, browsers, etc. But if our market caters to the hardcore gamers, then it would be a necessity to provide better specifications like dedicated video cards, more memory, and a fast processor, installed with the popular and new online games, and a few units installed with the latest offline games out in the market like NBA 2k11, Darksiders, or Deadrising 2. Most of us would prefer assembling computer units that would cater to both markets. That is why we make sure we provide high-end specifications if budget permits, or make upgrades on one or two computer at a time. To further compete, especially with newly opened shops, some of us would need to constantly upgrade our computers to keep up with the system requirements of the new games and the multi-tasking demand of the new generation of customers. Both target markets would require the most suitable internet connection based on the number of computer units in our shop. Most of the time, the problems encountered are with our ISPs because their performance is beyond our control. There would be downtimes and intermittent connection speeds that would sometimes last for several days, plus the added tension caused by the difficulty in calling for their technical support to quickly resolve the problem. My customers would be yelling “Kuya, lag!” or “Kuya, walang Internet!”, causing us further headache and stress. While most of us are also usually knowledgeable in doing our own troubleshooting and repair of hardware and software, still a lot of us also just hire the services of a technician to setup and maintain our Internet Cafe. It usually is more convenient to have an IT background, but with computers becoming more and more user-friendly, it only takes very little time until one becomes accustomed to the ins and outs of our computer setup.
“Kuya, may wall hack kayo?”
Getting the required permits or licenses is necessary if we want to go legit, and avoid the hassle of a sudden raid or inspection from the OMB, the Business Licensing Office of our city, or even the baranggay. We usually begin by registering a business name at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), then get a Baranggay clearance from the Baranggay, and then a Business permit from the Mayor’s office. Registering our business at the Beaureu of Internal Revenue (BIR) would make our legal obligation complete. This would also allow us to print and issue official receipts.
Most software require us to pay for a license to legally use their intellectual property. We start by procuring operating systems like Windows XP or Windows 7, or some of us have the option to use open source alternatives like the different flavors of Linux. Though the Microsoft operating systems are the most popular because almost all of the popular and best released games are functional only in Windows. Likewise, Office Automation programs like MS Office, full versions of Anti-Virus programs like Symantec Anti-Virus, Photo-Editing softwares like Adobe Photoshop, and even the ever popular network games like Warcraft 3 (DOTA) or Counterstrike, requires us to pay for the license per computer. However, there are again open source counterparts and Online games available to us for free.
“Kuya, pa-print !”
There are also other services that we could offer that would complement our computer rental services. We could offer printing, scanning, and fax services. Some of us have photocopying, laminating, and binding machines as well. Some also have expanded to printing photos and personalized designs on invitations, flyers, brochures, t-shirts, mugs, pins, keychains, etc. Many of us could easily offer Audio/Video and Music Remix editing services, aisde from CD or DVD duplication or burning. The more technically-inclined owners accept PC repair and troubleshooting, tutorials, network installation, and even setting up an Internet Cafe for other entrepreneurs interested in running the same business. Some of us even sell snacks and drinks inside the shop or outside in a separate food cart. However, selling food has a lot of issues to consider. It’s going to cause problems with cleanliness, potential damage to machines, extra space required and even the potential cluttering of your shop with non-Internet customers. On the other hand, there is a tremendous profit potential in snacks, coffee and soft drinks. You don’t see sari-sari or variety stores tacked on the front of almost every house on many residential streets for no reason. There is the potential for really nice markups on food and drinks, if you attract the sort of customers who spend hour after hour at the keyboard.
“Kuya, pa-stop time !”
Competition would suddenly come out of nowhere and catch us by surprise that sometimes we take time off to contemplate and ask ourselves if its time to raise the white flag. I woke up one day realising every street corner in our neighborhood already has an Internet Cafe.
To retain our customers and to attract new ones, some of us would use pricing as a tool to have an edge over others. We lower our rates believing it would keep our business afloat. Some of us would resort to offering promos, freebies, discounts, giveaways and/or membership perks. Some would offer contests or competitions for our gamer clients to win prizes and recognition as top gamers of the shop. Still some of us would rather improve and expand our services or facilities rather than sacrifice our daily income by lowering our rates. Some customers remain loyal to our shop especially the ones who value the friendship and camaraderie we shared already. Yet some will still go for the lowest rates, or would try out the recently opened shop with the latest computer specifications.
We also take time out to maintain our shops aesthetics and cleanliness. The convenience and looks of our shop also adds as an additional factor to attract customers. We sometimes use the posters that Online game providers giveaway for free to brighten up the place. Some of us have uniquely designed computer tables and counters. While some of us make use of dimmed lights to create a warm and cozy ambience. We take an extra effort to make our shop stand out from the rest. Some customers do prefer to rent at a clean, well maintained and airconditioned shop. Yet, there are quite a number as well who would ignore the lack of comfort and cleanliness just as long as the rates are low, the computers are tolerable, and the Internet connection is acceptable. Its actually turning out to be a fight for the best services at the lowest price which sometimes makes us lose our profit-generating goal. Our overhead costs goes high while our sales goes down. The Return of Investment (ROI)now usually takes longer as compared to how it was several years ago.
“Kuya, Game Over na?”
Do we see ourselves still running the same business a few years from now? Why not!…..The trend reveals the future generation would be more advanced in terms of acceptance and usage of new technology. Almost everyone now needs access to the Internet, and has a modern gadget or two that would require a link to the Internet to achieve its full potential use.
Although many can now afford to have their own Internet subscription at the comforts of their own home, a lot of people still go to Internet Cafes to directly mingle with friends and have fun playing a competitive network or online game. There is a virtual world out there, but the personal, in-the-flesh interaction with their peers, friends, and colleagues remains priceless. The laughter, cheer, and sometimes taunting of their barkadas adds a youthful spirit in them. People on the go would also have an easy and immediate access to the Internet everywhere. It is greatly appreciated when its possible to access our personal email at any Internet Cafe. Similarly, it becomes equally rewarding when we see our customers having a splendid time inside our shop.
On a final note, our business may not be the best business around. But if it brings us joy and happiness every time we see a customer pleased with our services, plus a little bit of adrenaline rush and excitement when we’re suddenly caught in the middle of fixing a faulty PC or two during peak hours but was able to revive them quickly enough, then we should definitely not close it no matter what. On the other hand, if it just gives us misery and accelerates our aging process trying to make ends meet during bills payment time, or going crazy over our insane competition who keeps on lowering their rental rates just to steal our customers, then we believe there might be other business ventures out there where we would be more successful in.