By: Sagar Gupta
J&B. A name familiar to the town of Jagna, where we dared to step out and scour the streets and homes for respondents to our survey, either like sales employees or census officials. A business that runs profitably, and has a name that is common knowledge to most as a popular grocery store – does it really need anything from us enthusiastic outsiders? Is having a name the same as having an identity?
These were questions that raced through my mind as I attempted to decipher how to proceed with a business that was extremely profitable, and reluctant to receive any inputs from us, so much so that we were regarded more as regular customers and less as consultants.
One thing I did know was that the family wanted to leave a mark, be it via a convenience store or a coffee shop, it wanted to be known as a place which serves every need of every customer. This requires creating a brand, which is more than a name. It is an identity. Once this was clear, Dilys and I knew what to do.
A few score pie-charts and a couple of hours on Photoshop later we had with us a surprise for the owner of J&B, one she never asked for. A cleverly planned ambush during her free-time had us seated in front of Belen who stared back at us, eyebrows raised as if to say, “What now kids?”
I began explaining to her the importance of effective branding to maintain a competitive edge and long lasting image but obviously I wasn’t much more than a babbling toddler to her until we showed her our designs. A new logo, business cards, and employee name-cards. I now had the undivided attention of Mrs. Belen Acebes, a feat sure to have made Hercules proud.
Untimely doubts and inquiries by her sales staff were dismissed as we began explaining to her our ideas of providing identity to the J&B Brand as “Jagna’s Family Store“ which would be “One Stop For All Your Needs”. She was also quite impressed with the idea of nametags for employees as she revealed how they refused to wear the t-shirts she had gotten made for them a few years ago. It was amazing how such simple tasks ended in a complete flip in our relationship. It showed me how important it is to prove yourself with hard evidence, especially if the person in concern is unsure of your background.
I went on to show her some past reports along with the kind of work that has been done through this course and her manner of speaking had me think of her as a wine bottle that either lets out everything at once or not at all. She described how the chaos of the business prevents her from making any further improvements – employees all over the place without specific tasks, having type in the inventory records every month for tax filings and having to deal with demands of raises, and resignations when left unfulfilled. Belen was the warden of a madhouse.
Solving the issue of the monthly grunt work in retyping all data came first. My love for technology is evident considering my CS background and hence I found them an alternative to expensive accounting soft-wares. It is an app that helps them keep track of their inventory and record transactions on the go. Belen’s Samsung tablet will be kept in the store for this work while she can monitor progress from her desktop at home. The process excited her although she maintained the composure of a businesswoman, satisfied with work of her consultants. She was, however, astonished that she didn’t have to pay us for our services.
This arrangement gave us license to spend the rest of the day free-riding on her home Wi-Fi to draft an employee-work-shift plan. Consequentially, I know all of their employee’s names now and they care to spare enough time to ask me about my dual life in India and Hong Kong, two worlds they’ve never seen. What is most interesting though, is our relationship with Mrs. Acebes. As a result of all the toil to gain her acceptance, our relationship is one forged in flames. It is only now that I realize how much she is like these Filipino coconuts, with a stern exterior but sweet and loving on the inside.
At her house, we were her children. Like any mother would, we were instructed to put away all our work at lunch time and were fed to our heart’s content. That dinner table conversation was when she dropped her walls and spoke to us about everything – from her daughter’s dream of becoming a doctor, to her son who is a special child, to how she surprised her dad for Father’s Day. I couldn’t help but marvel at the fickleness of life and the illusive nature of first impressions.
We wound up by showing her the findings of our survey and explaining how a coffee shop would be a great idea considering the views of the many college students around and the increasing number of tourists in the area. She was content with this validation that her opinion had received and was ready to challenge her husbands’ views to the contrary. She said to us that we would have our first coffee in Jagna at her shop a couple of years later, and we only nodded in pride – not from having convinced a stubborn businesswoman to our own accord but from having sparked the stern determination of a motherly figure. We hope that our efforts will aid the rise of a definitive identity for the J&B brand, whilst making life just a little simpler for its owners and employees.
As an outsider to the world of business, this experience has provided me great insight into the workings of such ventures. It’s been a roller-coaster for me, culturally, emotionally and professionally but the results have been worth it. Sharper soft-skills and a holistic view of a business are something I have this course to thank for. It’s not a regular consulting experience and the relationships we ended up forming with our “clients” have made us feel at one with this town. I’d like to end my last blog with a humble attempt a poetry, to sum-up my experience here:
“It’s been a trip like none before,
Through Jagna’s hills and Anda’s shore.
With the thought that knowledge we will provide
Alas! We met a great divide
This stoppage did humble us for sure
We learnt to prove ourselves and more
Faulty systems we did amend
But acquired much more by this journey’s end
And now what’s left, is sweet farewells and sore goodbyes
Beneath the crescent moon and these starry skies.”