Shopping bag day


Newsletter January 9 2011
Tuma Viela


You should never postpone good intentions for too long...Luckily the Tuma Viela team is always up for doing something and so we decide to immediately start the new year trying to sell our shopping bags.
Every 6 days is the big market day in Tamale and this week it fell on a Sunday. We decide to take this opportunity to see if there is any desire for our product. To have a fair amount of bags, we work hard the whole week, we even work throughout Saturday afternoon and finally we have 5 bags each to sell. Naturally we also bring along several schoolbags to show and explain to people how they can get one. With an air of excitement we head off, determined to get rid of every single bag. The group disappears into the narrow alleys on the way to the market and I keep Ayisha company who needs to navigate the better streets with her tricycle. As a last minute thought I sling 4 yards of sailcloth into the back of her cart because you never know, and we make our way to the market trough crowds and traffic. Ayisha is not impressed. She would rather remain behind her sewing machine and let us do this kind of work, shy as she is, but she does an amazing job! I had already seen this on clean-up day. She needed to be persuaded, but she has such incredible charm, knows exactly how to speak about what we do with such a lovely and natural manner about her that I can’t help but look at her and smile...a hidden talent! I notice I am actually struggling more today. One thing is promoting the workshop, I can do that, but actually selling the products is something completely different! I kind of hide behind Ayisha’s cart and the fact that I don’t speak Dagbani and let her do the talking....

We decided to sell the bags for 1 Gh.c. a piece. It won’t cover the costs but we already knew that that wouldn’t be feasible. Many people love the bag and are impressed by it, but it seems 1 Gh.c. is a high price to pay for a shopping bag. Ayisha kindly explains they can also get them for free at the workshop in exchange for water sachets and we carry on. On occasion we rejoin our colleagues and who are also trying their best but it isn’t easy...There is a lot of interest for the schoolbags and they sell like hot cakes but the shopping bags...no, not really...
Ayisha and I try a different tactic. To attract attention, I throw the large piece of folded sailcloth on my head and it works. And the curious nature of the locals has them calling out and asking questions. With a theatrical gesture I unfold the cloth in the middle of the street. I am in my comfort zone again. I do not need to sell this, just demonstrate it and with the enthusiasm of a true market-saleswoman I begin my spiel on the multiple uses for this fantastic product; how it is made and how you can get this and other items at the Tuma Viela workshop...
Ayisha translates it all in Dagbani and in no time we attract a crowd of interested and curious individuals. They feel and pull and nod their heads and of course ask how much it costs. “Only 1 Gh.c. per yard!” I shout out as if it nothing and to our surprise a few people try to press 4 Gh.c. into our hands and Ayisha quickly explains that you can only order it. We hadn’t counted on this to happen! Quickly I grab a pen, flatten out a crumpled piece of paper which I manage to fish out of my bag filled with random stuff. I find a blank corner and jot down names, amount of yards and phone numbers if they have them and I wink at Ayisha...

We hurry to the meet the others at the gas station at 1.30 pm. We all sit exhausted, a bunch of shopping bags at our feet.. It didn’t go as planned, but we have a bite to eat, give each other little pep talks and decide to meet back at the workshop at 4 pm. Ayisha and I are the first to get going, we hold and ace in our hands, and go to where the traders store their yams, rice, beans and other goods and sell them from rickety, drafty storage places, made up from corrugated iron and bent planks. This is where we are meant to be and people immediately see the value of this plastic cloth that can protect food against rain and dust which comes in through the often rusted and rotten sheds... Within not time we have and order for 71 yards (almost a third of what we produced in sailcloth last year!) and we joyfully head back to the workshop. We need to process this first, then we can always come back again! This is a good business! By selling we kill more birds with one stone! We can start working through the large amount of unused stored sachets we have, make a bit of money to cover our expenses and who knows, maybe more people will follow the example of the funny man in the market who, to the amusement of others, rapidly started collecting the sachets strewn around him to acquire some free sailcloth!

Back at the workshop we discuss the day and concede that next time we need to bring more schoolbags! We make inventory of our sales and put the money in a pile: we have sold 16 schoolbags and 24 shopping bags. All in all we made 44 Gh.c.! With this we manage to cover our 2 extra afternoons of work and then there is the prospect of the 71 Gh.c. for the orders of sailcloth we need to start producing now. On top of that, discovering the market, literally and figuratively, is always beneficial. We can learn from this! What works..what doesn’t. We have made a start and the coming weeks we have a tremendous amount of work to do. But tomorrow we take a day off...I think we’ve earned THAT too today!