By Zoya Zaheer
Of all the days I spent here, this is the one I will remember the most because its the last. All the memories of all the days I spent in this beautiful town with these beautiful people come back to me.
In my first week, we were introduced to Irene and her eatery. She was very warm and welcoming but also very skeptical about letting us bring any changes to her eatery. It was very difficult making her understand the importance of very small things such as book keeping and marketing. She always turned down all of our ideas by saying that they are very time consuming or not worth the expense. As much as I understood her perspective, I felt very let down. She thought of us as some young kids who have no sense of doing business. Whenever I went to speak to her she would not be at her eatery or be too busy to listen to us. We made her a very simple accounting book to maintain her records and gave it to her on Thursday. She did not write a single word on it till the next Monday.
In the second week we did some market research, competitor analysis and consumer analysis. We made surveys and interviewed customers. We found out that a competitor Lenny attracted much more customers just because of 1 dish they made everyday. We convinced Irene to make that same dish at her eatery every day and we saw a little increase in customers instantly. This was the point of time when Irene realized that we can actually provide insights that can actually help the business. Later, I sat down with Irene and she came up with her own accounting system she thought was much simpler. There were some obvious flaws with it but after a few suggestions we were able to devise an accounting system that Irene actually approved of and was willing to follow. From that day till now she has been collecting her receipts and writing down her weekly profits. After accounting seemed to be a little sorted, we decided to move on to marketing. Irene did not have a very big budget for marketing and therefore we had to come up with very inexpensive ways of doing marketing. The first thing we did was create her a Facebook page and asked all our local friends to like and share it. Most of Irene’s customers were school and college students and most of them used Facebook. We also met up with a few high school teachers. They wanted my insights on a entrepreneurship program and I agreed to help them if they promoted Irene in their school. The next thing we focused on was to make Irene’s stand out and be noticeable between a long line of competitors. When we met new people and told them to visit Irene, they never seemed to be sure of which eatery was Irene’s eatery out of all of them. Irene had a big blackboard that we decided to use. We put Irene’s name on the black board but it got washed away due to the rain and Irene did not bother to write on it again. So we though of using her existing hoardings and strategically placing them so that it was noticeable. We also put the exact location of Irene’s on our Facebook page in the hope that people would notice it.
This was the week filled with nostalgia. As our time with Irene and everybody else was coming to an end, I tried to eat lunch there as many times as I could. I always spoke to Irene and told her to maintain her records even after we left. She promised me that she would try her best. To promote Irene in different barangays we designed posters in English and with the help of my host family got it translated to Visaya. We then put these posters up on the notice boards and the advertising sections of the markets and wherever we could get the permission to post it. We also distributed the left over posters on the street trying to attract as many people as possible. Irene and her staff loved the posters and this was one of the first ones that were designed for her. We also put one next to her shop so that she and her workers could see it. As soon as I put it up all the workers circled around it and chattered very happily.Irene provides discounts on all the vegetable dishes after 1 pm and all the meat dishes after 4. Not a lot of people knew about it and then we decided to put up this information also on our Facebook page. We also kept a track of the dishes that she ran out of the first like the fried chicken and told her to increase the quantity by 20 percent to meet the increasing demand.
On my final day when I went to see Irene, and say goodbye to her, I felt very weird. I was happy that the work was over but I had started to feel like I was a part of their team. I sat down with Kumar to have my final lunch at Irene’s and then bid everyone goodbye. I was working with a real business with some real consequences and with some real people. The experience was a roller coaster ride with its ups and downs. I just hope that Irene listens to us and keeps maintaining records. I also gave her my number and my Facebook details so that she can contact me if she needs advice on anything. On my first day with Irene I did not expect this but I am going to miss working with her.