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A Lesson in Marketing From the Red Light District of Amsterdam

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Not so long ago, I was in Amsterdam. Venturing out from my hotel, which was in the very center, I was overwhelmed by the swarm of tourists and locals that plied the streets, wandering, seemingly, without purpose.

I sat at a café and pondered the mass of humanity. And clearly it was a hungry mass, because every second person was chomping on a take-away snack or slipping into the hundreds of eateries that line the streets and the canals.

I marveled at what an incredible market this was for food-sellers, and I started to think what would be the best way to capture the lion's share of such a potential bonanza.

And trust me: Everyone was trying. Restaurants of every possible type line the streets, from Argentinean grill houses to Mexican takeaways and everything else in between. Burgers were being sold from street stalls, sandwiches from sidewalk tables, and the usual suspects in terms of coffee shop chains sat cheek by jowl with those other Dutch coffee shops, where they sell what will put you in jail in other countries.

But one food outlet rose above all the rest for popularity.

A modest looking hole-in-the-wall called the 'Chipsy King'. Seriously. 'Chipsy King'. This place had a line of people out the street and down the block, and, as I sat at my café, I saw that the throng of customers simply never dwindled.

And what gourmet delights does the Chipsy King sell? Well, as the name suggests, the Chipsy King sells only one product and one product alone.

Fried potato chips. Or french fries as they are called elsewhere.

That's it.

At one end of the counter, you order your hot chips, and you collect them up at the other end. The only choice you have is in the topping, which ranges from ketchup to mustard to that Dutch favorite on fries, mayonnaise.

I started to think about the economics. One raw material. No variations on the menu, no waste, no real quality control issues, no cutlery or dishes, no skills need really by the 'fryer'. No seating for customers. And huge volumes being sold from dawn until well after midnight.

And the customers never dried up. The Chipsy King is just off the Dam Square, where every tourist passes through at some stage. It's just a stone's throw from the Red Light District, which attracts millions of people, and it is surrounded by bars spewing out revelers needing sustenance and by coffee shops which sell no coffee but do sell marijuana -- a product not unknown to produce hunger pangs.

What a perfect business, perfectly positioned! You may not fancy a paper cup of hot chips as you sit behind your computer right now, but the Chipsy King know us better than we know ourselves apparently, because, in that environment, we all want hot chips, it seems. The customers ranged from impecunious backpackers to suited business people to hoards of Japanese tourists juggling cameras, phone and... chips.

What a classic example, the greatest of all marketing mantras.

Give the people what they want, when they want it.

All hail the Chipsy King!

I hope the owner reads this blog from his yacht in the Caribbean.