Lessons from Life:Business Basics

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Life is a book of lessons. There are things to learn on every page, every day. Everything you ever wanted to learn, you can do it right here, without ever opening a book. Today’s lesson is from the smallest of entrepreneurs, The Roadside Vendor.

Business schools are supposed to teach students business. But can business
really be taught? Can there be a better place to learn than The School of life? On the way to Metro Station sits a very angry looking young man with both legs affected by polio. In front of him are spread out his wares. I first noticed him a couple of months ago on my way home from work. The prospect of getting a bargain on plastic lunch boxes got me to his roadside stall. But the guy was a tough negotiator. He wouldn’t budge from the rates that he was quoting. The rates were reasonable and almost 90% who inquired ended up buying from him at the rates quoted. I was one of them.

Soon I noticed him selling notebooks and school stationary. And I realized that the summer vacations were over. Again the rates stayed and soon the business changed. I was so taken by the man that I started observing him and his business quite closely.

The below are some business basics I learnt from my observation. They can be found in many business books but what makes them so unique is the context. An uneducated man barely able to stand seemed to have known the lessons for ever.

Whom to sell:
Know your customer base. What is your target audience likely to be? If you are targeting a particular section of society, understand their behavior and needs. In the case of the street vendor he knew he would be dealing mostly with the middle class. In India, the middle class is the largest consumer of retail products and most of it travels by the local trains. Again the middle class is always on the lookout for deals and bargain. A good deal is never let out. It is thus very important to understand your customer base before venturing into any business.

What to sell:
Always be unique in what you sell. There might be flower vendors, trinket sellers, bookstalls and small snack stores but no one selling plastic lunch boxes. Your likely customer might like a lot of products but are there any which only you can supply?  Lunch boxes were never sold not only at that particular station but nowhere on the roadside. Known your USP (Unique Selling Point) is as important as knowing your customer.

How to sell:
Once you know your customer and your product, you have to know how to sell it. The three most important aspects of selling are:

  • Quality:

Never compromise on quality of the product. Always sell the best product available in that price range. It is always more profitable to get more customers with a lesser margin than to get less customers on a slightly larger margin.

  • Price:

The pricing has to be correct. Never over quote and never compromise. If the price is right, the wise customer will definitely buy the product. Compromising on price raises questions on quality and hence it is advisable to have the price right.

When to sell:
There’s a time and place for everything. Selling umbrellas in winter is not only absurd but completely stupid. Every product sells more at a particular time. Know when to sell a particular product. Our teacher sold different products at different times of the year. He sold umbrellas just before the onset of the rains, school stationary just before school started lunch boxes in the winter and water bottles in the summer. If you are looking to launch a product, have patience and wait for the right time. If you are selling many products, it is advisable to keep inventory at a minimum. It is very important to get there before the competition does.

These then were the lessons in business that I was able to learn from a man who could not even walk. A man given up by society to be a beggar had created a successful business solely by using ideas and being disciplined.

Life has taught me about business this time around. And I am sure it has more lessons for me at every nook and corner.


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