Inspiring Change Through Literature and Media
I still remember that day vividly. How could I ever forget in a hurry? Some funny mistake I made while just starting up my Retail business. How awkward one can be when one is barely starting out with something new!
About two years ago when I ‘fired my boss’ and resigned from paid employment to join the SME-operator band wagon in the Retail sector, never did it occur to me for once that there would ever be any bottleneck in my company’s operations or any part of the Retail business that I wouldn’t enjoy or worse still, something I would practically HATE doing.
And would you take a chance at guessing what that turned out to be?
‘Market Runs’ we call it!
Blinded by Optimism…
It never crossed my mind that the entire process of procuring the stuffs I deal in would someday be a ‘biggie’. I never envisaged ever having to go through any rigors acquiring my goods. Strangely, that part of the deal simply escaped my mind. Or maybe it was just this general assumption that I would start out so large as to justify free delivery by every vendor.
Truthfully, I saw everything through rose coloured lenses in those days; I envisioned only the good sides: things like operating a dream retail store which would eventually grow into something as big as some well known brands in my country. You know how it is with startups- ever so optimistic and often too naïve to be realistic.
And then, procurement showed up- and for me, it was hatred at first sight. Possibly for the ugly experience of my first encounter; well, maybe not exactly, but there is just something about ‘market runs’ I don’t think I will ever like.
Don’t get me wrong; we do get many of our goods delivered at intervals by vendors – just that for an outlet our size, very few of such arrangements make sense for cost and logistic reasons.
Actually, manufacturers and big distributors rarely deal directly with small businesses: we are basically served by smaller distributors and all kinds of middle men; and the farther one gets down the supply chain, the higher the costs of goods due to logistics involved.
Therefore, pick up could sometimes be more cost effective than delivery for any startup.
But … how I hate those pick up times!
I’m generally more interested in merchandising, sales and stuffs like customer care, loyalty programs, and maybe a little bit of accounting… (another ‘biggie’ – the P & L (Profit and Loss) Statements, etc…)
Now, about my first experience at procurement.
‘Fully Kitted’ for Market Runs…
It happened on a Tuesday morning about two years ago when I had to take a trip to an open market to pick up stuffs I couldn’t get by delivery in preparation for the opening of my new retail outlet. I went to Oke Arin- one of the markets with the largest number of distributors of most grocery brands in Lagos.
Actually, it wasn’t my very first time at Oke Arin Market. I’d been there earlier for research: to get a picture of which items were ‘trending’ (market trends) and for cost analysis. But I didn’t stay for too long on those occasions because I had only gone to gather information and not for ‘practicals’. And I did enjoy every bit of that. With the benefit of hindsight however, I now understand why the analysis and cost trend I got was never near accurate…
Now on the particular occasion of my first market runs, I took a chauffeur driven bus to Oke Arin with one of my staff. We set out at about 9am and arrived at our destination about an hour later.
It really would have been a trip of a life time but for some certain problem which turned the entire thing into a horror movie for me.
Now, the issue wasn’t with my team of able bodied staff nor with the bus.
The issue was with ME. And the problem was that I had gone to Oke Arin Market for procurement ‘fully-kitted’ that morning,
Wondering what I mean by that? Please adjust your seat belts as I give you the full gist:
I arrived at Oke Arin Market for a rigorous all-day procurement exercise in this dress format:
– Body Magic. Full Body Magic! That very uncomfortable body trainer vest… (Ladies can you say Amen!)
– Court shoes with medium heels…
– Full make up and
– A generous splash of my Miss Dior perfume…
Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk
With this kind of appearance, I must have easily come across to the vendors as some wealthy consumer on a bulk purchase mission or just some spoilt brat on a spending spree … Though most of the traders were actually much more wealthier and some even more enlightened than I was…
I had gone to an open market for a major procurement with the airs of an ‘office girl’… Having never fully faced the realities of the fact that I actually transformed into a full-fledged ’market woman’ the day I chose Retailing as a profession and career.
Sadly, I also forgot to rub on my SPF (Sun Protection Factor) cream that morning.
Sure you can predict the outcome of my journey without the gift of prophecy: after about eight full hours of rigorous work in the hot sun, I came back burnt like suya, smelling like a goat (you know that terrible combination of dirt, sweat and perfume) and of course, very frustrated…
And procurement was barely about half way done!
Apart from the scourging effect of the sun and the self imposed torture from my Body Magic and court shoes, (I had to buy a pair of slippers eventually), even more frustrating was the fact that regardless of what language I spoke (which ranged from Queens English through Yoruba and Igbo to pidgin English) and how polite I was, I just couldn’t get any good bargains.
I spent about eight full hours moving from stall to stall and from shop to shop in search of the best deals but alas, I could hardly get any resellers’ price!
‘Staff Price’ in ‘market’ language as I was soon to discover!
All this because I couldn’t walk the walk and talk the talk. I didn’t look like them, smell like them and worse of all, talk like them.
I couldn’t speak their language!
(And by the way, every profession or career has it’s own language. You’ve got to look, smell, walk and talk like them… Else, you will end up getting all the worst deals!)
Even the cart pushers and ‘alabarus‘ didn’t spare me at all either. They charged so heavily that everything totaled to affect my cost price and raise my operation costs.
At the end of the exercise, I went home ‘harassed’ and frustrated, with a very bad headache. The torture from trip was indeed for me the definition of harassment.
…every profession or career has it’s own language. You’ve got to look, smell, walk and talk like them… Else, you will end up getting all the worst deals!
Traveling ‘Lighter’ and Smarter
All that happened over two years ago, and today, I look back retrospectively and laugh.
But trust me, I hardly make the same mistake twice. I learned the untaught, unwritten and unspoken rules of the game so fast. (Every career or business has some, and learn then one must else, he is banished to a business life of hardship and failure)
When I returned to the market the following week to complete my procurement , the experience was totally different because I went ‘lighter’ :
– Loose jeans and simple top
– No make up
– No cologne
– Face Cap
– Umbrella and of course NO BODY MAGIC… (Lollzzz…)
Besides, I went fully protected with a heavy dose of one of the best SPF creams in town!
I also got much better bargains this time around because I went smarter: I had learned a little about walking the walk and talking the talk… I tried my best to speak the little ‘market language’ i had learned from my previous trip in every available format and as warranted by each peculiar transaction …
The story has changed today, and I find market runs much easier. However, I still hate going to the market till date ask mentioned earlier; and I usually delay procurement till my outlet is practically empty.
And sure you know how I dress for market runs now…
Durable pair of slippers, SPF, no make up, no cologne, face cap or hat, jeans or just any other loose and comfortable clothing.
The procurement process is enough stress on its own and the key word here is comfort… You certainly don’t want to add to that stress.
And guess what? I think I have now mastered market runs to some tangible extent. I now know more rules of the game, and I can now speak more of the ‘language’.
I learned the untaught, unwritten and unspoken rules of the game so fast. (Every career or business has some, and learn then one must else, he is banished to a business life of hardship and failure)
The ‘market language’ is highly ‘coded’ you know… And it takes only market men and women to fathom it… *winks
As a matter of fact, it’s sometimes amusing when we have instances when a reseller and consumer could be procuring the same set of items in the same store at the same time and yet negotiate on different price levels. At such times, we do our concurrent negotiations in plain language and in full view of every one, and yet consumers around wouldn’t even get any hint that I am bargaining on and paying much less for the same items we are all buying.
I have learned to walk the walk and talk the talk. I now speak the language so perfectly. And that language is NOT English, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or even pidgin English.
The language is a ‘technical’ and highly coded language known only to those in the retail sector who have faced and embraced the realities of their career status.
I could as well speak the ‘language’ in Queen’s English or with an American accent. Moreover, comfort apart, I could as well now go ‘fully kitted’ to the market and still get the best deals. I have mastered the market woman’s ‘walk’ and ‘talk’ to that extent!
once you are a retailer, the Supply Chain world comes alive to you… From the adverts and promotions you see on TV, the jingles you hear on the Radio and how the reality plays out in the open market.
Once a Market (Wo)man…
This side of the globe, your academic qualifications regardless (MBA, PhD or total illiterate) once you’ve chosen retailing as a career, you are indeed a market (wo)man – especially if you are starting small.
And once a market wo(man), always a market wo(man).
The truth is that once you are a retailer, the Supply Chain world comes alive to you… From the adverts and promotions you see on TV, the jingles you hear on the Radio and how the reality plays out in the open market.
Sometimes, it’s like the whole world is sleeping and just existing, while we on the Supply chain and in the retail sector are the ones really living because as it were, people in other sectors are seemingly just working and earning to spend all the cool cash on us anyways! (Giggles…!!!)
To strong, growing and courageous ‘market’ men and women the world over!
Funmi Adebayo (c) 2013