Disrupting a traditional market place while preserving its cultural identity

Disrupting a traditional market place while preserving its cultural identity

When you take on an inherently traditional and somewhat ‘old school’ market place like Asian cuisine, it’s not without facing a number of interesting challenges along the way.

Tradition can be a positive in business but sometimes it can also present obstacles because you often need to break down age-old barriers, yet still retain the all-important elements that make your business proposition so appealing. 

To survive in business today, you must build an evolving and forward-thinking business that is agile and can flex to accommodate different market demands and changing customer preferences.

Historically in Asian culture, women would have been the home-makers. Despite being exposed to the western culture and seeing women at work, this generation has been stuck in a time-lock where certain traditions and values continue to be maintained (even though in India, the country itself would have progressed past some of these issues by now).

I was starting a business in a sector that is still heavily male-dominated from a business perspective and much of the sector are not used to dealing with women when it comes to business negotiations.

Choose your battles

I recently met with one of my suppliers along with a male member of my team. The supplier aware that I owned the business, yet they still directed all their questions to my male colleague and only maintained eye contact with him rather than me.

Most men in my industry would feel uncomfortable shaking hands with a woman. From the way you dress to the way you address, each minute and irrelevant detail is observed differently, simply because I am a woman in business.

That’s often hard to take, but sometimes it is about choosing the battles that are worth fighting, and tackling them in the right way.

Of course, the obstacles continue to evolve in this sector because for those that don’t have an issue dealing with female entrepreneurs, I’ve found that being an online tech entrepreneur can sometimes be perceived as a threat.

Sometimes this is because of a lack of understanding, but they are aware the internet is a disruptive force that could change the way they do business forever. And this is either a concern for them or something they choose to disregard.

Certain things I’ve learned to do have helped me conduct business. For example, I try to speak the same language where possible, dress a certain way and even bring a male colleague with me if I think the supplier or contact will be uncomfortable dealing with a woman. 

Whether I agree or not is of little consequence, because this will take the tension off the nonsensical barriers and help bring the focus back to the core aspects and objectives of the meeting.

Raising the bar in a market steeped in tradition

If you really want to disrupt a traditional market place that is very passionate about its heritage, you need to understand how the current market works before you can stand a chance of improving it. 

At the same time, you need to retain the essence of what makes it unique or you risk losing the benefits of what makes that market so buoyant. 

It is critical for you to get the key players in the market place to cooperate and work effectively with you and that is not always easy. 

I faced some tough times with my suppliers initially because they naturally assumed that the prices of my products should be more expensive than high street prices and so provided me with uncompetitive rates. 

It took me a great deal of negotiating and a lot of battles to break down these misconceptions and barriers before I struck the deal I wanted.

Dealing with competitors is a challenge but you have to bring them all along your journey, so that means finding an approach that doesn’t alienate or intimidate. 

Business is about addressing concerns and working through challenges. My business is disrupting the current market with the intention to raise the bar in providing great customer service.

It is something that requires a huge shift in thinking in the current market place, as well as a need for greater efficiency as the industry has a high level of wastage associated with it.  

There is also a need for tighter process and controls – increasing the general standard and quality of the goods through improved supply-chain management.


The First Women Awards is a distinguished programme that recognises and celebrates exceptional business women and senior-level professionals. Do you know any woman who fits this criteriaNominate them for an award now.


Read on to understand the importance of flexing and adapting to different cultures when attempting to disrupt an industry steeped in tradition.


Leave a Comment

You might also like: