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 procurement of sugar cane and how people lose jobs


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The Bugolobi supplier – Photo by Simon Kaheru

OVER the last couple of weeks I have followed first hand how: 1. Procurement sometimes gets easily confounded and; 2. How, as a direct result, a certain cadre of persons will lose their jobs.

Starting about three weeks ago, I noticed that a police guard within my neighbourhood had developed a consistent habit of eating sugarcane at the gate near my home.
Sugar cane was my favourite childhood fruit, back when my siblings and I coined the word ‘sukali kiboko’, as we were learning our vernacular and trying to do so without being laughed at. So we went, one at a time, to our grand mother to get the words for ‘sugar’ and ‘cane’, then put them together.
We got laughed at, then learnt the correct words for bikajjo/bikaijo.
The sight of the police guard ripping away at his sugarcane triggered a nostalgic need to join in, and enquiries revealed that he regularly purchased his supply nearby at Ushs500 per cane.
I dispatched my eleven-year old with Ushs1,000 and he returned with two long sugar cane stems that quickly went into sweet tooth history.
The next day, I sent a domestic worker whose role profile includes ad hoc shopping trips within a certain radius for items valued below a set, safe limit.
I only wanted two sugar cane stems – one for me, and one for the police guard or anybody else interested. She returned and I chewed through my day’s allocation, but the next day I found the store to be empty.
Assuming that the habit had become popular within the household, I sent her on another excursion and made a loose remark about how the two stems from the day before had been so quickly decimated.
“I only bought one,” she said, and left to buy more, with another Ushs1,000.
That gave me time to think about the first Ushs1,000 I had given her and how it had resulted in the confessed singular sugar cane stem but with no change returned.
After a long while I found she had returned and gone on to other duties, unaware that my need for a sugar cane fix made me dangerously irritable. Apologising, she explained that the usual point had no sugar cane on offer, and got angrily sent on her way to accomplish the given task.
She returned with one stem and reported that it cost Ushs800.
I noted the difference in cost, but dealt with the more pressing matter of chewing cane, as I thought things over and decided to bypass her for such purchases.
The next day, I bypassed her and used another emissary who I gave Ushs2,000.
He also returned with one stem – and this one much shorter than usual. I studied it carefully and found the individual segments themselves to be no different from past stems, which meant that someone had taken a knife to either end of the sugar cane.
It is normal for the top-most segment with the leaves and the bottom-most one with roots and soil to get hacked away, but this time the knife operator had literally made enjawulo of sugar cane itself!
To make matters worse, it cost the full Ushs2,000. Mbu.
I was incensed and made it clear how inconceivable it was for the price of sugarcane to have quadrupled within a half kilometre radius over the course of four days.
I felt like telling him the fable of an unscrupulous West African President in the 1980s who would send an aide to the Central Bank Governor with a request for a briefcase of money. By the time the Governor released the cash, the amount in the request had normally been multiplied ten times over, with various other officials starting with the Governor himself and including drivers, bodyguards and messengers, all taking off a small cut before the President received the money he had initially requested.
But I was impatient for my sugar cane fix, so I struck the fellow off my list of trusted sugar cane purchasers and moved on.
I wished I had stayed close to the police guard who had introduced me to the Ushs500-a-stem supplier, but it was obvious that I had now entered another dimension, so I changed tack and the next day went to the Nakawa market myself.
And stupidly, instead of alighting from my vehicle to walk up to the fellow at the bicycle chopping up and selling the sugar canes, I accepted the offer of using the market shopping boys who make themselves available to fools such as myself.
It must have been obvious to him that I was intent on the convenience of sitting in my vehicle and unlikely to leave, with my paraphernalia, in order to cross the road and purchase sugar cane.
I saw a tell-tale look show up in his eyes as he told me, after handing me one chopped up sugar cane stem, that it cost Ushs4,000. I gave him a knowing smile, and he smiled back and I knew he was winning. I paid up and left.
Two days later, I found another fellow on a bicycle in Bugolobi and this time I crossed the road to make my purchase. Ushs3,000.
Slapping myself on the forehead, I went back to the Ushs500-a-stem point and found them fully re-stocked.
There is no turning back.
I now buy sugar cane myself – with no external assistance, all segments intact.
(And at this point, I must thank the patient reader who texted me at the end of the day to say: “Correction: Sugarcane is a grass; NOT a fruit or a vegetable!” Very correct, madame!)