Friday, March 20, 2015

Vendors, Vendors: Entrepreneurs at the Grassroots

In the art of marketing, vendors are closest to the grassroots, both at the producers' and consumers' end They make a bridge where commodities and services flow without the rigid laws of economics and legal intervention, thus creating informal niches of commerce and industry.

Dr Abe V Rotor

Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday
Sidewalk fruit stall, Diliman, QC

There is no escape from the vendor. On the sidewalk, at the bus station, subdivision, office, stoplight (Sampaguita!), in the middle of the night (Balot!). Name what you need and he is there, right at your doorstep.

And if you wish to meet his kind, go to your nearest public market or talipapa (makeshift market), and there you will be swarmed by old and young alike, and you will be exulted (or pestered) with profuse courtesies and persistent pleadings. Offerings make a long list and may save you from the rounds and rigors of informal transactions, congested sidewalks, noisy radios, slippery walks, potpourri of smell. Before you know it your chore is over.

The personal service vendors offer is beyond compare with the vending machine or mall or fast food. They are so natural and spontaneous, their stories and joke - how familiar! But their wits may not be welcomed, yet the touch is there, and the human behind the ware may be a kind old woman or a child learning the trade wide. They make a class of their own, a culture distinctly vending, and I guess there is no better word for it - vendors.

Vendors make a link of the producer on one hand, and the buyer on the other. They form a chain of informal niches, which virtually define specialization and jurisdiction in the area, say a market, or a busy sidewalk. In some cases such structure is rigid structure, a kind of cartel, or call it cooperative (everyone should cooperate with the rules).

What is this art and practice called vending? It must have grown with tradition until it became an institution of sort. When I was a kid, I used to accompany my auntie to market to sell some farm produce which in modern parlance is called marketable surplus, and in the process she generates cash (monetize) out of some rice or chickens. With enough cash (liquidity) dad would pay our loan (obligation), our tuition, our insurance premium, and other expenses. And when it is milling time, we made sugar, local wine called basi, and vinegar. Today we call this processing (agro-industry in the economic sense), and because there is an increase in the value of the commodity we call this gain, value-added. Since we made two, three or more different products economists would call this diversification. To keep the quality and make the product presentable we did some kind of packaging. Put together, this is agribusiness.

While vending is an art of selling, there are many things that go with it. Many vendors actually produce their items, others process them. Others repack them into smaller units or volumes. Imagine a housewife prepare packed lunch to meet orders, a broom maker and necklace maker convert raw materials into beautiful finished products. A fruit vendor picks the fruits, transports and ripens them, or makes them into jam and jelly. Market-focused, these are planned to enhance the scalability of the products and therefore, the profitability trade. This is economics at the roots level.

Broom Maker

Lenny Linsangan makes broom from bamboo and sells them house-to-house. I met her at Lagro, Quezon City. I bought one walis tambo (soft broom) and a long-stemmed broom the ceiling for PI00 for the two. She has been in the business for three years now since she learned the of making brooms from neighbors near the Malaria Control Center in Caloocan. She is one of some two dozen broom makers in her barangay.Jenny earns P200 in a day's round to augment her husband's earning as a carpenter.

"Our broom can compare with those from Baguio," she said with pride, "and it is relatively cheaper." Lenny is an example of a housewife of three very young children who has found a trade through her own initiative.

Tinobong Maker

Tinobong is rice cake cooked in bamboo, a specialty of the Ilocos region. A big one costs P 15, while the smaller ,is PI 0 each which is good for one sitting for a hungry bull. I can finish one myself. All you have to do is heat the tinubong for a few minutes, crack the bottom part by striking it on a hard material, say a post, then split it open. A spoon does the trick to dislodge the sticky, tasty cake made of glutinous rice, brown sugar and coconut. Tinubong is a signature product of Sto Domingo, Ilocos Sur, some 20 kilometers north of Vigan. It caters to tourists and the balikbayan. It has a shelf life of three days on the average.

To eat tinobong, first crack the bottom end, split, and scoop the ensconced delicacy.

Kesong Puti Vendor

Another signature product is kesong puti or carabao cheese of Laguna. I bought a whole bundle costing PI00 from Mario, 36 years old, near a resort in Calamba, Laguna. There are ten individual bundles wrapped with fresh banana leaves, the white cheese still oozing fresh. "It was harvested just this morning that is why it is fresh," Mar told me, "unlike commercial cheese," he added. Its taste is salty and the texture is loose, but this is the local cheese that I have known since college. The process has not changed in spite of the presence of the Dairy Training and Research Institute at UPLB, the next town. I still have a copy of a research paper by UPLB on how carabao cheese can be made with the likes and standard of Danish cheese. Maybe it is time to look at it again with the revival of interest in the carabao with the bill now a law which was introduced by former President Joseph Estrada when he was senator.

Door-to-door RTW Vendor

It is quite interesting to find your ready-to-wear that suits your taste and fits you from the ambulant RTW vendors when a whole mall doesn't have it. Well, it is because they have as many to choose from, and if you give your specifications, they come back for your order. That is how persistent vendors are.

Pauline Alintago is 44, and has six children. Her husband is a peddler and repairman, and works with their eldest son, making their rounds in nearby subdivisions.

Nimfa Arbose, 44, Pauline's companion and neighbor has three children. Her husband is a taxi driver. Their eldest is studying computer education at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

These are two determined mothers in t e RTW business. The y have a credit on wholesale on the goods they sell, putting a markup of l0 to 15 percent. That's a good P250 daily, half day round. , "It is our suki (established buyers) that keeps our little business steady," they said. In any business the suki is a VIP.

The Young Ones

They are too young to be in the trade, call it children abuse. They should be at home or in the school, but they have to augment family Income. I admire their early training. I know on the farm children are taught early to take care of the animals, sow and harvest the field, do a variety of farm and household chores. During our time this is no case of child abuse. It is part of our discipline, and the nature of farm life.

What I detest is that in the city, children are made to front for begging, camouflaged with things to sell like sampaguita necklace and dish cloth. Or children are deprived of their studies, robbed from enjoying childhood, even of their very health and chance to grow up. Times are different. Parents or employers are held responsible.

On the other hand imagine this scenario I often witness in Chinese stores. A child learns many things as he lends a hand and soon knows how to compute, weigh, wrap, label, help in the inventory. I compare this child with a farmhand. How these children start early in life is sometimes not so many parents may agree on. For me they will become more successful than those whose lives are surrounded by only TV and computers, or so-called modern-times amenities.

Vendors, vendors everywhere and there is perhaps no item or service they cannot provide for you. At home, on the street, in the office - you do not have to go far to look for something you need. For me I have long joined their ranks. I still carry on my father's trade of making basi wine and vinegar for the tourist shops, and manage a family frame shop. I have the feeling I am more known for these products, just like how I see my suki every time. Of course I am proud of it.

Bamboo Craft Peddler

I was driving back to Manila when I chanced upon a basket maker in Villasis, Pangasinan. I took the dirt road to see the shop and examine the products, and with the intention to choose something native. Here you can see hatching baskets. Hanging on a tree, the hen makes use of the basket to lay eggs and hatch them. Here is a bamboo cradle that we do not often see nowadays. Portable benches, easy chairs, kitchen wares made of bamboo and wood rather than metal or plastic are some of the main native products. Examining them sends a nostalgic feeling for what I sorely miss.

"It's a dying industry," sighs Bert, a native of the place whose family has been in the business for two generations. "Plastics have taken over, and wood and bamboo are getting scarce and expensive."

I agree. That's why you do not see gypsy caravans selling native crafts anymore. When my children were young they were amused to see the caravan, carts pulled by large white bullocks (St. Gertrudes breed). The cart is store, home, vehicle, rolled in one. At night time the carts are arranged like wagons of the old West, while the animals are tied in one place to graze or feed on ration. "What can you do about it?" Bert seemed to ask. His face was sad. I did not ask any discount for the hatching basket.

Candon Calamay, A Specialty

Second to Vigan, the capital, Candon is the center of business and commerce in the second district of Ilocos Sur. What is unique with the place is that it is home of the calamay (in coconut shell or not). If you go up North, be sure to stop at the plaza and you can't miss the rows of stalls selling the unique product. Here you will find chichacorn (corn cooked like chicharon), rice cakes of all sort, from suman to tupig. There are three places I know which also specialize on sweets, Baliwag I Bulacan, Carmen in Pangasinan, and Calamba-Los Banos in Laguna. Vendors in these places take pride in their products which contribute to the reputation of the place. There are however, unscrupulous vendors you should be keen at.

Calamay in coconut shell costs PIOO to PI20 a pair. Normally it has a shelf life of 3 to 4 days and this allows the balikbayan to take it for pasalubong. Proudly Philippine made and marketed, vendor- style.

Barbecue and Fishball Vendor

If there is a very appetizing food by its aroma alone that haunts the air around schools, at bus stops, on sidewalks, other marketplace - in fact in any nook where people want viand as pulotan - it is definitely barbecue. Ah, you know what I am talking about.

One book says, "You are a Filipino if..." - if you stop at a barbecue stand, and hang up for some time for your favorite adidas, IUD, bulaklak (terms to describe chicken feet, small intestines of the chicken, or pig, among others), to be cooked before your eyes, well done or medium rare, while holding your appetite. A dip into a communal mixed spice, a bite from the top, another at the bottom or middle, then a third, and one stick is consumed, then you begin with the second, and - depending on your budget - go for a third or fourth. Move over McDo, KFC, Jollibee.

Meet Ben Palisada, 40, fishball vendor who has diversified into pugo (quail) egg, hotdog, crushed ice and gulaman (sweetened gel drink). "It's a tiring work, but I like it and I have many suki (regular customers)." Recently I stopped at his station which is near an aquarium shop and school supplies store. There were schoolchildren milling around Ben's portable cart, a shade of the versatile CRV. I was a child again for a moment until the children were back to their classroom and Ben began replenishing his stock. He turned to his sale, and he said he makes a net of P250 to P300 a day. Not bad for an entrepreneur in his own right.

Fish Vendor

Marjorie Jacob 37, carries a basket, old-folk style, and when you hear her call, "Isda, isda" even at a distance, you know she came down from La Mesa Dam where tilapia, hito, dalag are caught regularly. She weighs the still struggling fish cleans it and that saves you from rigors of going to the wet market Besides, you are certain the fish is fresh, and of course very safe. I need not tell how it is going to be cooked but if it is a weekend, there is no more enjoyable than broiled over charcoal tilapia or hito with fresh tomato, onion, ginger and home patis (fish sauce). Don't forget a piece or two of labuyo.

Fish vendors

Typically we do not buy wholesale for the kitchen, but rather, by tingi (small divisions or parcels). We seldom buy a whole squash, two three segments are what we need for a recipe. Spices come by cloves, pieces, or a I00-gram utmost. In the market just tell your suki vendor what you are going to cook. Pinakbet, and she will hand you a package complete with vegetable and spice combination, sans the meat or fish that you wish to add. Go to the meat section, and you will find prepared packages for dinuguan or papaitan ready for pick up. The ingredients are complete and well balanced.

Who says it is a monopoly of super markets and groceries and instant noodles? I say vendors are even more efficient and personalized in serving our needs. They are there where big business ends, when the malls are closed, or where there is no market.

Vendors, vendors everywhere for all the things you need. What more do you ask for? ~

Talipapa (flea market)

Local gypsy - family and goods on the move

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