improve your sales – lessons from saalongo mukiibi, the sugar cane guy

LAST Saturday after a brief discussion about urban poverty and the seeming hopeless of many of our very numerous youth in this country, I drove past Bugolobi and spotted my sugar cane guy there back at his station. I had noticed on some days over the last couple of weeks that he was not always at this point, and twice I had stopped to ask why but the boda men at the stage never seemed to know or care.
I had lost interest in him as a supplier a while back because he is located at a very busy spot right in front of the market where the parking is tight or scarce, and many a time one can’t catch his attention quickly enough to avoid road rage from other users whose interest in roadside sugar cane doesn’t match mine.
At any rate, his sugar cane is much more expensive than other suppliers I have found elsewhere, even though his product (the green stems called something like ‘gowa’) is superior to most other thin stems, being more fleshy and therefore juicy.
This Saturday the traffic was a little light so I took the opportunity to address a few irritations he presents, and as I was holding the seminar with him I realized that some boda men and one or two muchomo grillers (those that do sausages and chicken) were keenly eavesdropping. What I was telling the chap was useful to them as well – and, it would turn out, to anyone doing any sort of business.
First of all, he had a habit of facing the market rather than the road, so he constantly has his back to the considerable traffic going up into Bugolobi. Explaining to him that his location was prime for retail, I told him to re-position himself so he faced the traffic directly. That way, he would make eye contact with potential and actual customers and sell much more; even without making a sale, it would be easier for him to market his product if he smiled at all the cars driving slowly past, and gestured to them politely to try out his product.
But having done that, I told him, he needed to clean up his appearance. Like most of the roadside sugar cane guys who normally sell the stuff off of the back of a bicycle or wheelbarrow, his clothes were as filthy as the sugar cane itself. He, individually, was worse than most as his style of clothing was urban grunge – torn jeans, wrinkled clothing and basically dirty and messy, all the way through to his unkempt hair.
This, I told him, would not attract more customers especially if he judged them by the vehicles they drove and their concerns of the hygiene involved in his ‘processed’ product. One reason he stood facing away from the road was he was busy peeling and chopping up sugar cane into bits to put into buveera for those who wanted it already peeled – he didn’t have gloves but at least he had covered his hands with buveera while doing so, because sugar cane is so white you can’t hide grime even though bacteria is invisible.
We stood there and counted the Range Rovers, Land Cruisers and Mercedes Benzes going by and he agreed that those were certainly potential high value customers but they would be unlikely to hold a conversation with him, let alone allow him to lean against their vehicles if he were so shabbily turned out.
When I pointed to one of the muchomo guys and explained that the white coats they wore were to project the hygiene expectations that would give a customer comfort that they wouldn’t fall ill from eating that roadside meat, they all nodded.
Then, I told the fellow, get a piece of cardboard and neatly but clearly write the price of the sugar cane then prop it up so that everybody driving by can see it – display pricing will make some of these potential customers stop and think, “Hey! I can afford that quite easily…” and even if they don’t stop to buy right then, they can send a maid running down the road after they get home.
In fact, we agreed, even the sugar cane itself should be propped up in a manner that makes it call out to the potential customer, rather than laid out on the road out of sight. Actually, the people driving past get to see more of the sugar cane peelings than the sugar cane itself, making that spot appear to be a garbage collection point rather than a sugar cane point of sale.
He nodded as more of the boda men came closer and worked their auricles harder.
Even better, I suggested humbly, how about adding your name to that piece of cardboard so you brand your sugarcane and make it distinct from all the others in the village, division or district?
He smiled. His name is Mukiibi Saalongo.
Fantastic! I exclaimed; use Saalongo rather than Mukiibi, so that customers believe that they are helping to support the livelihood of a man who is looking after a couple of twins – in fact, thinking about it now I should go back and tell him to get involved the next time there is a Twins Festival organized by The New Vision, as that would be the perfect marketing opportunity for him and his products.
At this point in our seminar, though, I couldn’t resist pointing out that his current appearance made one worry that all the money he receives goes straight into habits that keep law enforcement officials busy at night and very early in the morning.
He laughed, but agreed with the opinion – also because a couple of boda chaps were also chuckling on the fringes of our roadside workshop.
And then he expressed his thanks and introduced a “But the problem is…” – Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) demands license fees that make it difficult for him to operate. This is a serious problem for these fellows, and keeps them ready to up and disappear at the sight of the KCCA enforcement colours turning a corner.
But I wasn’t done yet, and detailed to him how if he faced the road and did all the above he could easily set up a sugar cane delivery system right into the homes of those 1,200 apartments in Bugolobi and more than 500 residents living there – using his bicycle.
And, if it all worked out well then he would increase sales exponentially (I did not use this very word with Saalongo Mukiibi) and sell much more than the 40 sugar canes he ferries on his bicycle every day.
I think.
We’ll find out when we do a review – in about a month’s time.

the old lady vs. three lousy men

Farewell Mama

International Women’s Day had us saying farewell to a grand old lady who lived 102 years and left behind a humble yet powerful legacy as a good mother, devoted wife, committed Christian and one of the most hardworking people in her community. 

One story that stuck about the industrious nature of Tezira Rwabuhungu went back to her time as a young girl in Rwanda, where they used to go out in groups to do communal digging. Because she had a tendency of literally digging from dawn till dusk, people started avoiding her and her group diminished in numbers but she went on tilling the soil. 

One day, a eulogist recounted, she complained that nightfall had come too quickly yet she had been tilling non-stop from early that morning! Another told us how she made the determination after getting married and acknowledging the humble nature of the salary of her Reverand husband, that her family would never want for anything.  

This made her work doubly hard at making handicrafts to increase their domestic income – which she did well into her eighties! 

Her final journey took us to Namutamba, in Mityana, where right at church I met her anti-theses – all three of them men, of varying education levels but similarly humble beginnings.

The first had a kiosk selling fruit right across from the church we were at, which caught my attention because of a recent dietary shift on my part. His prices were half what I meet in Kampala, so I was eager to stock up for the week, but he wasn’t ready to suffer the inconvenience of searching for change. 

After a few minutes of bargaining with him to take more of my money, I realised how ridiculous I sounded and stepped back. But the pull of the fruit was strong, and I felt a duty to change his attitude as well.

So I invited him to cross the road with me to explain that if he created a branch of his kiosk using a table set up in the compound of the church just metres away, he would make enough money for change to not be a problem, since there were hundreds of people from Kampala present. 

He gave me that, “I’ll get back to you” look, walked back to his banana-laden kiosk, and only returned when I sent for him much later on as I was engaged in a one-sided conversation with the second antithesis, a chap called Something Sebuturo. 

Sebuturo burst in on a conversation I was having with Capt. Gad Gasatura about Namutamba’s vast potential for tourism since it contains a wealth of history right in the homes of the people there. Just as we were warming up our theme to package it for the newly-formed Uganda Tourism Board team, Sebuturo arrived, preceded by thick fumes of alcohol. 

Before long we were in stitches as he engaged us in witty Kinyarwanda mixed with Luganda and some Runyoro, and he was so busy chatting he missed out on the bananas being distributed. That’s when I sent for the Kiosk entrepreneur, and the third antithesis to the hard working old lady entered the picture. 

This fellow was called Magango, and joined with the offer to hold the kaveera I was using to gather litter. Out of respect for his obvious age, and with one eye on his neat batik shirt, I protested a little but he brushed aside my protests with the declaration: “Nze njagal’akaveera kano. Tekinzibuwalila ‘kugikwaata!” (‘What I want is the plastic bag; it’s not hard for me to hold.’) 

His breath gave off no alcohol, so I paid him a little more attention and was surprised at the eloquence of his conversation, which included some english words. 

“I did Cambridge exams, you know!” he said at one point, referring to the question papers sent to Uganda by post from Canterbury between the 1960s and 1980s. All this he did while swinging the kaveera of litter, even as he revealed that his father had been a well-respected carpenter in the area.

This was shortly before Sebuturo walked off haughtily after announcing to me, “Alright, I am off – Ushs500 is all I need right now!” and throwing me a disdainful gesture after I dilly-dallied at providing him with said funds.

I was flummoxed.

What had happened to Magango to make a random kaveera such a valuable possession that he would gather up our rubbish? At least Sebuturo’s breath was a pointer to his general disposition, even though he did strike a funny pose standing in the foreground of his brother’s four wheel drive vehicle driving off back to Kampala.

And most of all, I couldn’t understand why was the kiosk seller was NOT selling off all his wares at the funeral of a woman whose work ethic, industry and dedication to service was legendary, at least as a gesture to say: May her soul Rest In Peace.

using social media to over-run poverty

The reason social media is important is because it is having a major impact on the way we live our lives – even here in Uganda.

Social media is not just Facebook and Twitter even though those are two of the most popularly known platforms in Uganda. It’s what we do with those platforms and many more, and how we use them to relate with each other.

Last weekend I interacted with some Rotarians over this, and one of them said quite resolutely that he simply did not have any time for or interest in Facebook. Two minutes later, after he heard that there were 1million Ugandans on Facebook alone today and that he could reach them in some way or another for his benefit, he changed his mind.

Another Rotarian perked up more when he heard about crowdsourcing – which is really an old concept that has just become much more powerful because of social media. It’s harnessing the power of numbers to achieve a goal or task quicker – and most Ugandans would recognise this through a fund-raiser.

A couple of months ago the Rotary Club organised a charity run to raise funds for the Cancer Institute. Lots of resources were expended over many weeks to get this done and eventually a good many people with big public names and heavy corporate and government jobs responded to the letters and newspaper ads, turned up and about Ushs100million was raised.

Good. That’s what Rotary is about – service about self, contributing to social causes and networking among well-heeled and influential people to do this.

A month after that, a small group of youths started mobilising amongst themselves for a charity to raise funds to build a dormitory for some school in Luwero. After a couple of weeks of tweeting and Facebooking about their event, code-named #Hoops4Grace4, the youths pitched a tent in a field on Lugogo By-Pass, sold home-made juice, t-shirts and wristbands, and played some basketball – all in all raising Ushs8million.

None of these youths is the usual big-name type and all of them threw a few shillings into the kitty to get to the Ushs8million.

I’m not following the lines of the Bible story about the donations by the rich man and the poor widow, instead, I was fascinated that a small group of little known youths with no corporate, church or political backing whatsoever had deviated from the path of consuming alcohol, partying hard and general recalcitrance, to collect money for some school in Luweero.

I rounded up the ringleaders and demanded an explanation, and they hit me with more shocking news – they all had ordinary jobs doing ordinary things, and this was just a side thing they had gotten into. Plus, they had identified a serious need at that Luweero school (the name doesn’t matter because there are many of these around us) and decided to address it themselves.

These kids had even mobilised their friends to go down to the school and physically do some work there, and all done via Twitter, Facebook and their mobile phones!

And while I was interrogating them, I was a bit dazzled by the sparkle in their faces as they said things like, “We felt that, surely WE can also do something” and “We thought that maybe we could make a small contribution”.

Their small contribution will certainly result in a dormitory building in Luweero because this week, as Uganda celebrates 51 years of Independence, these youths are mobilising again – campaigning among their friends and contacts to either buy a bag of cement (about Ushs30,000) or a brick (Ushs500) for the cause.

Just that – harnessing the power of the crowd by getting each of us to buy one bag of cement or one brick and turning that into a dormitory.

In 2011, the Arab Spring revolutions used Social Media to mobilise protests that eventually overran entire governments; here, today, if these efforts catch on perhaps some of our youths might be using Social Media to mobilise and…overrun poverty and shortfalls in social services?

We should certainly hope so.

And we should hope that the next generation of our societal managers is drawn from these types of eager, socially aware, and technologically networked Ugandan youths.