The Two Young Men and the two stands in the Jagna Public Market
One day, in the market, two young men with a perplexed look on their faces were standing right beside a vegetable’s stand in the Jagna market. They were talking to the owner of the stand, Bebe. Everyone around looked at them with curious gazes, because this is not a commonly seen situation.
Bebe was so focusing on her work, using her sharp knife slicing the vegetables into a bamboo basin steadily. There are several vegetables inside, such as squash, carrot and eggplant. They mix together and become a dish called “sari-sari”. This is a popular dish among local people. Just 10 pesos for each pack and it is enough for one serving.
The two young men were so eagerly, if not, a bit anxiously looking at Bebe, waiting for her to finish her work on hand. They were waiting for Bebe, waiting for her accounting record, which she promised them two days ago when they first met. They desperately need it to get an understanding of the financial status of the stand. Suddenly, Bebe stopped and put down the knife, because a customer came.
Finally, after the customer gone, Bebe finally turned her face to the two men. She first gave a regretful smile and then said, “Sorry. I forgot it, again. I am too busy and slept last night. I finished working at 8 yesterday and I still needed to do the housework. And I had to start working at 4 this morning…I promised to bring you tomorrow.” She then turned around and went back to work, leaving Kasper and me behind.
This is the daily routine of Bebe, one of our business partner. Bebe has been being an experienced vegetable retailer for over 25 years. She started her stand before the marriage and now she is already a mother. For 25 years, every day from 4am to 8am, she worked in her stand, gaining the money bit by bit to support her whole family. To me, Bebe is respectable and remarkable. Honestly, I personally cannot imagine how is it like to work so hard to strive for the living. But here, she is not the only case. So is our another partner, Mario, who is a fruit stand owner. They are ordinary but not mediocre.
Something about the Businesses
After a short and unorganised story, I should probably write something about our business partners. I could never imagine how it would be like to work with a fruit stand and vegetable stand if I have not tried it. The experience is definitely unique.
Basically, Mario and Bebe operate their own stores every day with sometimes the assistance from their wife/husband/relatives. They are in charge of literally everything in the store, including purchasing, selling, inventory management, customer service…you name it!
At the beginning, Kasper and I both thought that to improve the business of fruit and vegetable stand should be not too hard. But we were totally wrong. Contrarily, their business model seems to be too simple for us to do anything fancy or outstanding. First, for labour management, they are the only labour force in their business. So, there is no way to refine the labour management. Second, for the business model, the businesses make a profit through the disparity between the wholesale and retail prices. All they need to do is buy-in and sell-out, that’s all. Basically, they can memorise everything and every transaction in their stores. So, creating accounting record is regarded as unnecessary by them. Third, for marketing, due to their business nature, limited labour capacity and fixed customer attribute. There is no point for them to do extra marketing online or offline. Fourth, for pricing, it is very frustrating to learn that all the fruit stores in the market have the same supplier and they all have kind of tacit agreement for pricing.
It is very discouraging to learn the above facts. Seemingly, the business has not much room for improvement. Even for the business owner, they are not quite clear about their ambition and goal.
But soon, we realised that it should our responsibility to figure out the problem of our business partners. So, we decided to do a simple customer interview, which is to understand the customers’ thought and what they value. In the end, it turned out to provide us with some useful insights. Customers Jagna generally think that cleanness and freshness of the store and fruit are of the utmost importance, but the environment in the market is not so satisfactory. We knew to the most popular fruits among customers and so on.
Based on the result, we set our goals upon four aspects. First, by renovating the store, we hope to differentiate Mario and Bebe from other stores by providing customers with a better buying experience. Second, we will try out different pricing strategy, such as special offer and discount, during their peak hours in order to boost the sales. Third, we also plan to find new suppliers in order to seek for a better wholesale price and break the current uniform pricing. Fourth, we will try to develop some other value-added products, like fruit salad, vegetable package in order to increase the source of income. Ultimately, it is to increase the sales revenue and diversify the customer segments. But after all, the most important thing is to create a simple but effective accounting record so that we can keep track of everything and assess the outcome.
Things are definitely tougher than we thought. But luckily, it is in good progress. Perhaps, consulting is not only about solving the clients’ problem, but also about digging it out problems and get the clients to understand it.
-Written on the way to Tagbilaran, visiting the fruit supplier