By Jamie, Yung Yu Jing
Norma NJN Fashion Wear. This is the name of the tiny fashion shop that have stood in the second floor of the Jagna Market for 9 years since 2008, and this small business is the client that my consulting partner Stella and I are responsible for. The owner, Norma, has inherited the shop from her deceased mum 4 years ago. Having studied in Holy Name University with a major in Business Management, plus having worked in the government for 20 years, Norma’s English is relatively impressive. Coupled with patience and a strong will to both understand and be understood, we were able to hold meaningful conversations with Norma to investigate into her business progressively through our third time of meetings thus far.
Our first time trying to meet Norma has an unexpected turn of events: we went to her shop but found out that Norma was out to church, so we had to wait an hour for her! This interesting twist made me realised that it is we, the student consultants, that would need to be the ones taking all the initiative to drive the entire consulting process: from scheduling meetings with Norma, to planning and preparing materials and discussion questions for the meetings, to the later trial and error stage of implementing our business plans, and lastly, hoping to successfully create a beneficial impact to Norma and her shop even after we left the Philippines. We later found out that Norma initially had no concrete idea of what Stella and I were there for, and we had to explain and convince her gradually. Meanwhile, Stella, Sabey (Professor Beau’s sister and our lovely guide) and I passed the extra time getting a nice pedicure nearby, but we also easily observed that there are many similar small fashion shops in the market; Norma’s shop is just one among dozens of competitors with little differentiation at a glance.
[Me (left) and my consulting partner Stella (right) posing with Norma (middle) in front of her shop]
Upon finally meeting Norma, we greeted a tanned, short lady in her 60s, with hair up in a neat bun and the grey roots peeking out underneath, a pair of presbyopia eyeglasses hanging on string from her neck, wearing plain shorts, slippers and a T- shirt with tiny holes. Norma’s big, bright eyes would wrinkle up in self-contentment whenever she shared jokes and laughed with us heartily. Something about her reminds me of my beloved deceased grandmother. Norma later shared with us that local Filipinos seldom buy new fashion items unless they have been worn out, which is a stark contrast to the Consumerism of Hong Kong people, Mainlanders and many others from more developed regions around the world. With our fair skin and fluent English, Stella and I easily stood out as foreigners, needing time to familiarize ourselves with the local business model and ways of thinking. Norma contemplated us with an expression of curiosity and gave us a kind nod when we introduced ourselves… We kept on learning more and more during our meetings with Norma: from her personal stories of her past and her kids, to her role as the owner of a small business, the daily operations of her shop, how she handled her 7 suppliers (she needs to go to Tagbilaran herself in every 2 weeks to get the goods due to lowered costs), and the specific strengths (such as customization) and weaknesses of her shop over others, plus the common opportunities and challenges faced by the small fashion shops in the Jagna market.
[Norma explaining to me about one major strength of her product: customization. She sometimes imports tailor-made items with premium fabric from Manila to accommodate to particular customer needs.]
More importantly, we felt that there is potential for improvement in Norma’s record keeping system. So far, Norma has been casually keeping track of her records in two accounting books: an official one for tax computing purposes, and another book for Norma’s own reference. The second accounting book is what Stella and I wish to first focus on during our engagement. We think that this accounting book is too disorganised and incomplete to provide any real purpose and core value, or to generate any insightful business evaluation, analysis and further strategies. For example, Norma would only include major items that she can remember in the book: such as both the rent for her shop and her home, plus the expenses for her children and nieces but also the expenses for her tax and to the suppliers. Thus, we diagnosed that the problem with her current recordkeeping lies in firstly, the mixing up of Norma’s personal and business records. The second problem is that Norma did not went further to compute the total revenues, expenses and profits or losses on a regular basis, so she fails to accurately observe any trends in the performance of her business. The third problem is the inconsistent recordkeeping, especially for small business transactions that have easily went forgotten and unrecorded by Norma. When we raised the problems with Norma, she gave us an embarrassed smile and told us with an unmotivated wave of hand that she is “too lazy” to improve her recordkeeping.
[Norma’s recordkeeping of both her personal and business revenue and expenses in the same accounting book. The records are disorganised and incomplete thus far and Norma has not yet generated any business insights from the figures.]
Therefore, Stella and I set to work, trying to come up with a workable solution to solve the three aforementioned problems of Norma’s current recordkeeping. We bought Norma two new notebooks for her proper accounting purpose and to separate her business records from her personal ones. Next, we spent an afternoon manually writing up the basic templates of accounting in the red notebook, hoping that Norma can most easily follow our idea and fill in the new notebook after we left. We then opened another blue notebook for her household expenses. Thus far, we have agreed with Norma that she can try to do recordkeeping on a weekly basis, and included for her the dates, revenues and expenses of separate items, monthly expenses for the last week of the month, a space to compute the total profits of each week, plus a page for monthly summary report and remarks at the end. When we showed Norma our two new accounting books and explained to her the new style, concepts and methods, her expression was ambiguous towards the proposed changes to her recordkeeping ways, yet she still promised us to give it a try and to fill in the records for this current week on her own. Afterwards, Norma offered us coffee and began chatting with us about her addiction to her favourite Korean dramas. We were amused by her reaction and are very glad that Norma is warming up towards us and the changes we aspire to bring to her and her business. Much still has to be done to evaluate the effectiveness of our proposed solutions, plus we will try to keep on innovating other new ways to achieve improvement for her small business, and I am excited to fully experience this consulting process with Norma and Stella in the days to come!