Nov 22, 2011

Jul 31, 2011

Shop by Flash Light


Our landlord arrives late but we're into the basement shop by 10.30.  Still working through the aftermath of heavy rain this year in a country that simply does not do humidity. 11am and folk arriving on the late night / early morning flights are wandering in, trying to stay awake and trying to get their bearings.  Others who are getting ready to leave are doing their final shopping.

Pitch Black in the Basement

We are suddenly hit by the UB power cut; the shop is in total darkness - but calmly our staff grab the safety lights to prevent customers from having accidents; another staff saves vital information and closes down the computer. And then ...

Break out the Cave Lights

Our manager informs customers that now everything is under control they can continue to shop ... looks of disbelief until our manager helps a customer to put on one of our Cave Lights ... and shopping continues as though it is quite normal to "look for products" with your shopping flash light.

Breaking with Tradition

Word is getting around and more shoppers are arriving for a possible once in a lifetime experience.  An orderly queue has formed at the door as other shoppers and their personal shop assistants fill their baskets.  No electronic point of sale - just back to the trusty notebook.  But the fully charged Credit Card machine keeps chugging away.  We refuse to close!

The Fun Continues

So the sudden power cut which no one knew was going to happen, and expected it to be short, continued for the rest of the day.  Shopping continued until the lights became dull and it was normal closing time.  Mary & Martha are convinced shoppers just loved their experience - where else can you go and shop in the basement by Cave Light and still pay by credit card.

Going the Extra Mile
Mary & Martha are keen to look for innovative ways of serving our Artisans by continuing sales at all times and very keen to give customers a genuine Fair Trade experience despite "normal" UB actions such as power cuts.  COME SHOP WITH US. 

Jul 17, 2011

Highs and Lows of a Mongolian Naadam

High 1 - Completed the half year returns; hard copy, internet, employee tax, VAT and company tax.  All went well and we're finally into profit territory this year.  Slight glitch - the Employee tax authorities hid their new software inside the VAT software and did not publish the fact!  Caught it reading the new menus in Mongolian in the downloaded VAT software.

High 2 - Had our best day ever the day before the official Naadam Holidays - sales greater than January and February put together!

Low 1 - The Stationery Shop hold the only key to our shop.  They took off for a 3 day picnic during the Naadam Holiday - potentially the busiest days of the year for us.  We used "The Deck" to engage the public but still believe we lost 50% of our business on those days to The State Department Store.

Low 2 - It rained "cats and dogs" on July 11th so we came upon our flooded shop on the 14th when our dear land lord came back with the key.  Lots of damp to deal with and drying of products as well as cleaning of muddy floors - but by about 2pm we were back in business.  However we're still airing stuff 3 days later!

Low 3 - Our wonderful "Made from the Heart" cooperative held their Naadam early (1-2 July) and were then going to set about our extremely urgent Export Orders for Hong Kong and the now famous Snooshies for Holland.  Half of the cooperative decided to take another week's holiday and in so doing are causing us to miss both Export deadlines.  In one case we will simply send the order less the missing products.  A loss to us and the cooperative.  Snooshy is being patient with us but we fear repeat orders are in danger of evaporating.  Folk want money - usually quickly - but have no concept of keeping commitments or that customers have long memories.  Our Following the Blue Eyes cooperative delivered substandard knitwear for our Hong Kong Customer and were surprised when all products were rejected even though they knew they has deliberately ignored our specifications. The whole of society is so used to hearing "unavailable" in shops and restaurants (despite extensive brochures and very long menus) and long term business thinking is in the hands of a few who really work for their future.  The good news is a number of Mongolians who have visited other Asian countries are starting to expect better from their own.

Low 4 - Keeping the nation pure - Mongolia has a growing number of dissatisfied men who tend to have limited education, limited prospects (due to their behaviours) of gaining wives and have taken to harassing Mongolian women who happen to be with foreign men / Foreign men with Mongolian women.  Mongolian women are looking for foreign husbands who will show them care, attention and respect.  So I'm standing on the street outside our shop holding an umbrella over one of our leafleters to keep the sun off the young lady and one of these "thugs" comes up aggressively questioning what she is doing with me AND seems surprised when she says she works for a company making a positive difference to Mongolians.  he strutted away with a puzzled look!

Low 5 - Pick Pockets Paradise - From mid May to the end of August each year the pick pockets come out in force.  Fearless because in the height of tourist season the police presence (uniformed and plain clothed) seems to disappear and because Mongolian Joe Public will never lift a finger to stop someone being pick pocketed.  There may be a streak of nationalism which finds its roots in the CK hero but little sense of ground up changes to society to make Mongolia a safer place for all.  Ok so I reacted to one pick pocket working on a Mongolian lady's handbag in clear view of several people.  I admit I meant to grab him but I guess rugby days came into play and the next thing was him out cold and me on top.  At that moment I remembered I was on concrete not grass and realised I had left blood skid marks from my own knees on the side walk.  maybe I should be less spontaneous in future!

High 3 - We need to remember that our turnover this year in country is more than 35% up on last year across all our products which means that our Artisan's businesses are also up similar levels.  With all the lows we need to realise we are still being blessed in our work.

Jun 19, 2011

High Altitude Shopping

Or moving upmarket!

We're always looking for ways of increasing sales for our Artisans.  The Latest venture / adventure is THE DECK.  It is hard to raise your profile, never mind highlight your shop entrance when it is in the second basement level after going through a poorly lit Mongolian Stationary Shop and when the restrictions for above ground sign-age are major.

So our latest cunning promotional plan has been to hire the wooden deck of a Hair Dressing Salon run by a bemused Korean lady.

So as you can see we have a form of awning and more sign-age, wonderful customer facilitators AND of course products on display.  Two days in and the actual sales are low - break even level - but everyone who visits THE DECK also overcome their fears of the subterranean cave system and burst into the light of our best kept secret - THE BASEMENT SHOP - maybe with a little help from our staff who are out looking for customers.  Better still customers buy as well as looking!

Jun 14, 2011

Finding the SNOOSHY

Or a micro and many cars ...

We visit our artisans to encourage and teach and to see how they are doing personally.  This time it was Irene's turn  ...  and the task to help a Cooperative in a town some 200km away learn how to make the famous Dutch SNOOSHY.  Read on.

Travel is always full of surprises, and sometimes the destinations are too!
Last week saw me and Uyungaa, one of our students head north up the train line to visit Zuun Kharaa, and the felt cooperative.  The reason being – we have an initial order for a ‘character’ called ‘Snooshy’.

Hi we're breeding well and getting better looking every generation!

This has been really challenging for the cooperative – it is not easy to make things that are designed asymmetrically with a lot of different detail!   Our first order is for 250, so a lot of opportunity to make a lot of mistakes.  But more on production in a later blog!

We had a great time with the ladies and finally after much angst over the ears managed to produce a couple of samples we agreed on.

Tungalag, the leader then headed off telling us we could phone for a taxi to get back to UB or wait for the 4am train.  The taxi seemed like a good idea so we phoned and waited and waited.  About an hour later, Tungalag arrived back saying if we hadn’t heard from the taxi folk there wasn’t a taxi.  OK, so off to the station to buy tickets.  Meantime, Uyungaa had been terrified by a mouse running round the room – the mouse certainly wasn’t frightened.  We had by then struggled with the lock on the room, and at different stages were either locked in or out.

At the station we met a lady who said – don’t wait for the train, I have a microbus, we are going north but can take you to the small town on the main road where you’ll easily get a taxi to Ulaanbaatar (UB).  So after returning to the room and another extended fight with the lock, we got our bags and set off across the Mongolian Steppe in a minibus.  Uyungaa was amazed as we passed herds of horses, sheep, goats and cows.  She had not been in the countryside since she was 7.

The Micro folk held up their return to help us find a car going to UB.  Mongolia is the land of limited safety regulations, so we found ourselves in a small car with another 5 adults and 2 children – very cosy!  Mongolians also love their food so the journey was an occasion of passing round whole salami and biting off chunks, tearing up loaves, munching crisps and biscuits and washing it all down with fizzy drinks.  Amazingly no one was sick!  I got hit on the back of the neck with an extremely hard loaf of bread when we had a sudden stop – just as well it wasn’t a brick.

We arrived in UB just before 1:00 am in the morning and got dropped off at a bus stop on the far west of the city.  Got a taxi to take us to the east side and as we were congratulating ourselves on that, the taxi driver suddenly stopped and said we had to leave he had something else to do.  So, again we found ourselves at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (it felt like nowhere even though it was in the city).  However, we did get another taxi after a short wait and arrived home safely.  It was great to be back and sleep in my own bed but I did wonder if waiting for the 4am train might have been more sensible?