Is TBI Even Serious? We Don’t Think So

Around 2009 Wall Street came to Kelapa Gading. It did it with the seriousness of intent and full wallet which TBI, a company which still think it’s the late 1990s, has never managed on any of its ventures. When I managed TBI Kelapa Gading I was awarded a piddling marketing budget of only Rp 3 million a month (on average) in 2010. (This is about $300 a month). While we had a ruko (a shop-house) in an industrial estate, Wall Street rented a large premises in Mal Kelapa Gading, the largest and most upmarket mall in Kelapa Gading. They also rented a massive billboard overlooking the main roundabout there, which would have cost around $10,000 a year to rent (we costed it). It didn’t end there. The whole of Jalan Bulevar Barat (West Boulevard) in Kelapa Gading had colored canvas banners for Wall Street, depicting a girl with her tongue painted in the colors of the US flag. There were dozens and dozens of these banners mounted on poles all down this main strip. 

What can we conclude about Wall Street versus TBI based on this information? Wall Street has arrived in Indonesia with a war-chest of serious money. They have thrown a large amount of cash into their marketing campaigns- an amount which absolutely dwarfs TBI’s meager “flyer blast” school of advertising. They have also invested in an expensive, high-profile location. In short, Wall Street understands that gaining market share requires high visibility, a concept which TBI has never grasped. TBI has opted for cheap “below the line” marketing and allowed Wall Street to rapidly take the lucrative Kelapa Gading market. This is emblematic of the whole organization. While WSI understands you have to spend money to make money, TBI has opted for “cheap and cheerful” and hoped for the best. 

Don’t get me wrong. The personal touch means a lot. We had some committed teachers and were able to increase student numbers in 2010-2011 by 65% despite the  arrival of WSI, but we were massively outgunned. I always knew we were a small business competing with a large, cashed-up corporate rival, but that realism was completely lacking at Head Office. They never even acknowledged that WSI were decimating their market share, preferring to do the ‘ostrich’ routine which they continue to the present day. But they ought not to fool themselves that Wall Street gives them a second thought. Wall Street vs EF is now the only game in town.

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