The Bottom of the Pyramid Essay

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Schumpeter The bottom of the pyramid Businesses are learning to serve the growing number of hard-up Americans Jun 23rd 2011 | from the print edition MANAGEMENT gurus have rhapsodised about “the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” in emerging markets ever since C.K. Prahalad popularised the idea in 2006. They have filled books with stories of cut-price Indian hospitals and Chinese firms that make $100 computers. But when it comes to the bottom of the pyramid in the rich world, the gurus lose interest. This is understandable. McDonald's and Walmart do not have the same exotic ring as Aravind Eye Care and Tata Motors. The West's bottom-of-the-pyramid companies are an unglamorous bunch. Many rely on poorly educated shift workers. Some inhabit the nether world of loan sharks and bail bondsmen. But even in one of the world's richest countries the hard-up represent a huge and growing market. The average American household saw its real income decline between 2005 and 2009. Millions of middle-class Americans have been forced to “downshift”, as credit dries up and the costs of college and health care soar. Some 44m Americans live below the official poverty line ($21,954 a year for a family of four). Consumer spending per household fell by 2.8% in 2009, the first time it had fallen since the Bureau of Labour Statistics started gathering data in 1984. This is a challenge to the American dream. But it is also an opportunity for clever companies. Even the poorest Americans are rich by the standards of many other countries, so there is money to be made by serving them. McDonald's, for example, is booming. Since 2006 its restaurants have generated an annual increase in sales of 4%, despite rising food prices. (This figure excludes restaurants that have been open for less than a year.) In April the firm hired an astonishing 50,000 full- and

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