Saturday, 5 May 2007

What shall we sell?

It is a sound business axiom that an entrepreneur starting up a business must decide exactly what his aim is. In the retail trade this means identifying exactly what it is he wants to sell.

In an earlier post I described a silly shop whose owner had clearly failed to do this. Here, in a photo I took while on holiday in Pokhara years ago, is another example, though perhaps this business was not a total failure since we at least took advantage of all that was on offer, and others may also have had need of both items.

It may be that some similarly unlikely combinations of goods for sale are quite unplanned and merely indicate a hit-or-miss attitude, or possibly desperation, on the part of the vendor.

I once spent a day showing half a dozen Japanese visitors around the seaside town where I live; they were polite and appreciative, and interested in everything I told them, or at any rate pretended to be. They all clicked away happily the whole time, and one of them had a motorised camera with which he took thirty or so identical photos of a featureless and deserted stretch of shingle. As the day wore on I started to go out of my mind with boredom as we visited an exhibition of hand-made quilts at a church hall and walked about on the wind-swept pier.

We had done the Old Town and were strolling along a slightly decayed shopping street when we came across a shop, obviously on the point of going out of business, which displayed in its window some rather battered second-hand furniture, mostly sideboards. On top of one of them, at the front, was a stack of eggs, in cartons, labelled “EGGS”, with the price.

The visitors gathered around, clearly intrigued, and I felt obliged to make a comment. “Aha!, I said, “now this is very interesting. This is what we call an Egg-and-Sideboard shop. We have many of them in this part of Sussex, it’s a traditional kind of thing”.

“Mmmm-aaah!” they said, and click-click went the cameras.

I don’t think I feel guilty about this. It only confirmed their belief that we are a strange race, and it is unlikely that they will ever find out that I lied to them.

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