Indonesia Anonymus

We are a group of Indonesians, ranting about our beloved country. This blog is a result of many people grumbling about many things in many ways.
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Anonymus is the Latin word for anonymous, the correct English spelling. The Latin spelling, however, is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to an ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work. Read more at Wikipedia.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ibu Syam and her shop

"I am closing down my shop, son". Ibu Syam calls everybody younger as if they are her children. "It's not making any money and I cannot afford to keep it. I am getting old, and the bills, oh my God.."

Ibu Syam owns a small shop right by her house, selling everything from soaps to snacks and drinks. Even stamps. It's a tiny little shop managed solely by her.
She was a teacher, so she said, teaching at a junior high school, before she retired a few years back. She used a big part of her life-savings as capital to open her little shop.
Her husband passed away a long time ago, her two sons both are college graduates, hold good jobs, happily married and live on the other side of the city. So Ibu Syam is planning to close and move in with one of them.

How do we get to know Ibu Syam? R, one of our colleague, jogs around the block of his house every weekend, and towards the end of his jogging route, he likes to drop by at Ibu Syam's shop for a sip of cold teh-botol (bottled tea, very popular in Indonesia, more popular than cola to some).
It is always early in the morning and Ibu Syam's shop is the only one that opens early. It was a nice little shop. Clean, bright, right in the corner of the street, and in a well-off neighborhood.

"I am not making any profit at all. People just don't go to small shops anymore. They prefer to go to supermarkets, or hypermarkets or whatever you call those giant stores...

Even my next door neighbors sent their maids to Carref0ur only to buy 2 bars of soap and nothing else... I don't understand. I sell that brand of soap, I am right next door, and my price is only Rp.100 more -- believe me, I checked -- and yet, they go to Carref0ur..

"Is it possible to match the big store's price? So you can compete?" Asked our colleague.

"Wake up, son. I can't buy in large bulk like those stores. I don't have the money. Even if I could, and I have it all in stock, who's going to buy? People don't even come by anymore. They never ask whether I have what they need or not, let alone asking about the price... They just automatically go to supermarkets when they need something..."

R felt guilty. He is one of those 'people' Ibu Syam is referring to.

"I can't compete with those guys... Their price is cheaper and they open until late everyday including Saturdays and Sundays. I only have myself to man this shop. If I open like they do, when can I rest? I can't afford to hire anybody..."

Ibu Syam shrugged her shoulders. "I am not the only one, you know. A lot of small shop owners have the same fate. Soon we will all be gone. And sadly, no one cares.
We will all happily stroll to Carref0ur..."

Oh no, Ibu Syam. Please say it ain't so.

Shouldn't we protect our small businesses from getting trampled by giants?
By limiting big retailers' opening hours, for example?
A while back we were in Germany and we were really annoyed by the stores' opening hours. They close really early on weekdays and don't open on weekends. Shopping was a pain. So we praised Indonesian businesses for 'working really hard' and willing to open late even on weekends. (Recently we heard Germany ease up the rule a bit and stores can open on limited hours on Saturday).

Now, after what we learned from Ibu Syam, we have a second thought.
Maybe it would be good for the economy if big retailers are not allowed to open on Sundays and limited hours on Saturdays.
Give small businesses a chance to survive.

Is that protectionism? Of course not. Even a level playing field is not fair enough for the little guys. Law is about protecting the weak. If we won't protect them, then who would?

Or, if it is impossible to hope for some kind of law that can protect our own little people, then let's do it the easy way:
The next time you are in need of a bar of soap, or a bottle of shampoo, or a stamp, try next door first. Buy them at your neighbour's little shop.
Let your money stay longer in the hand of our own people, instead of going to a French large retailer...

And if Ibu Syam's story is not enough to persuade you, think about it this way:
How do you feel if Ibu Syam was your mother?

"Beli di toko sebelah". That should be our motto.

Beli di toko sebelah : Buy it next door.


Blogger Unknown said...

As a foreigner, buying stuff from those small stores is really convenient -- especially when they sell homemade krupuk and stuff. And the personality of the owners is often fantastic.

I feel sorry for Ibu Syam, but people have the right to pick and choose where they want to shop, you shouldn't force them out of hypermarts...

1:57 AM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...

we are not trying (or propose) to force people out of big retailers.

We're just saying, if you just need a bar of soap, there's nothing wrong with trying the neighborhood shop first...

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Guys

The trend you are describing so well is happening more and more, not just here in indo but in my home country canada as well. A lot of the neighborhood grocery stores have gone the way of the dodo simply because the big shops can get by with a volume discount. Try getting one of those big shops to deliver the aqua bottle to your door or deliver something today and pay for it tomorrow and suddenly the little warung has an advantage. Running a small business can be very demanding and a certain degree of resourcefullness and flexibility can go a long way and combatting the big discount hypermarkets. Maybe Ibu Syam just dosen't have the skills necessary to compete (sorry to say that).

Personally I like the warungs. Once you get to know them its like having your own personal delivery boy. The fact that there are still lots of small shops here says that the hypermarkets don't have it all their own way.


9:36 PM  
Blogger Jakartass said...

My local Carrefour stayed shut for a long month after the recent floods. I wasn't surprised as they'd built it on a piece of land which, being on the bank of the River Ciliwung, regularly flooded.

There is certainly a need for 'mixed' shopping, warung to market to hypermarket. But why does every warung in my small neighbourhood sell the same produce? (But none of them sell beer!)

Opening a warung with limited capital is easy. What isn't so easy is determining that the service is actually needed. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it won't necessarily pay the rent.

It's always seemed a little daft to me that if I want, say, a window frame I go to Kampung Melayu, if I want bamboo, I go to Bukit Duri, if I want to exchange money I go to Manggarai and if I want beer .... there's only Carrefour!

12:34 PM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...

sorry about your beer predicament.
One explanation of why they don't sell beer is probably because many of them are owned by muslims, and selling alcohol beverages does not bode well in the neighborhood. (just a guess).

Good point you and pj_bali made:
To open a shop is one thing. To have the skill and the business sense to run it is another.

3:32 PM  
Blogger oigal said...

Did you ask them to sell beer? Our guys get whatever we need and when ever we need..

I have found religion has little impact on making a buck..just ask

Deliver as well

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm againts giant retailers. When it's cheap I don't trust how they got the stuff cheap and I don't buy from them whenever possible (sometime it's not possible). When I was living in Indonesia my grandma and the maid always wait up for tukang sayur to come over every morning. When I was living in Germany I never shop at Aldi, I frequent 'Tante Emma Laden' although parking was pain in the butt and the price is a few cents higher. Now I'm in the States and always look for local Farmer's markets and small organic shops.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The situation you are describing is happening everywhere I go, but mostly the major cities i.e. Jakarta, Bandung. Even that, it's mostly concentrated in the high(er) developed areas. Not everybody's willing to spend so much time getting on public transport (or their car), go to Carrefour, find a parking space, etc etc. Most people would actually buy the small stuff from toko sebelah.

That said, what you wrote is true in general. Not only the small shops have to compete against multinational companies, even local companies (indomart, anyone?) are sprouting here and there taking away the "original feel" of buying from warung.

I guess it's inevitable, but this is when regulation from the local government comes in (if there's any).

pj_bali was right about the business aspect to this; the problem with the little people is that they don't have professional marketeer and financial analyst.

What a very well done blog! :D I enjoy it thoroughly!

9:57 PM  
Blogger plainplane said...

I don't think Ibu Syam closing her shop because it's not making any profit. Who is going to provide Teh Botol for joggers, they are not going to Carrefour.
Small shops are suppose to provide daily needs products, I believe small shop income mostly comes from cigarettes, snacks, softdrinks sales. I think the problem is, there is no market for small shops around Ibu Syam's house. Not too many joggers. And the profit from her small shop can't cover her expenses. Kiosk will be more profitable in the area. If Ibu Syam is going to close her shop, it should not be because of her small shop is not profitable, must be for a lot of other reasons.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what we will miss the most from the disappearance of local, small "warungs" would be the nostalgic aspect of it. Those "warungs" are the things we grew up around. As little kids, where can we buy candy or snacks on our own? The next door “warung”, of course. So eventually, we will want them back once they are gone (or is it just me?). So, let’s stop them from disappearing by buying as much as possible from them. It’s true, they can be your personal shopper, just let them know what you need, and they will provide.

I encourage everyone reading this blog to buy as much as possible from the stores nearest to your house, not only to help the small businesses to stay in business, but also the planet to be a bit less polluted. I bet losing all those trips to the giant supermarkets will reduce quite a lot of carbon dioxide in the air.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Jakartan Journal said...

This is quite sad, coming from a middle upper class family, I'm the sort of person who goes to Ranch and my maid goes to Hypermart and such.

I do see the point however, and quite sympathize, after all, just around the corner of my street you can see this happening.

Damn hypermart and their convenience. (They REALLY ARE)

(L) Maddie

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very sad world , but that is the price of modernisation. The store-next-door, needs now to change their style. Instead of providing day to day things like soap they should start moving into providing those items that the supermarkets DO NOT provide, like local products etc. May be then they may start being more productive. Bear in mind thought that the convinence store like Alfamart, Circle K are in the mood to replace just these store-next-door shops.
This leads to another trend, where in these store close and then join one of the retail chains such as the once mentioned above..
Sad but true...

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Shouldn't we protect our small businesses from getting trampled by giants?"
NO, because who to protect in 'smallest' vs 'smaller' vs 'small' vs 'slightly bigger than small' vs 'slightly bigger' vs 'big' vs 'bigger' vs ... vs 'clusters of small bussinesses' vs 'clusters of ..' well you got the idea, there's problem in determining how big (or small) bussiness should get protection against.

"By limiting big retailers' opening hours, for example?"
As above, define 'big' please? IndoMart vs Carrefour vs Alfa vs AnyNewcomers, which one is big? What if Carrefour/AnyNewcomers decides to open small-but-lots of chain stores?

"Law is about protecting the weak."
Law is there to maintain orderly life, protect the innocent from harm and violation, and uphold justice and property rights REGARDLESS whether you are weak or strong, big or small.

"If we won't protect them, then who would?"
Think dokar, or wartel.
Both has their own glorious time. World is changing. Both dokar & wartel now are in trouble. To protect'em both, means to prohibit purchasing personal cellphone, taxi, motorcycle, car, etc.
Sorry to tell you this, but Mother Nature is a hanging judge...

"How do you feel if Ibu Syam was your mother?"
I told her not to invest his limited capital by opening small software house that will compete face-to-face against Microsoft, oh sorry, small store near Carrefour AT THE FIRST PLACE. If it's too late then she must move her bussiness near her customer (and define her edge against future competitors), or liquidate and open another kind bussiness (not just buying & selling).

Sorry for the long comment :p

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a foreigner with an Indonesian wife and kids and I will be moving to Indonesia to start a grocery store there in a couple months' time and I still think the business is viable unless you are talking about shops within close proximity with the big supermarkets.
But of course, it also depends on your objective...if your there to make big bucks....then you may be disappointed but if it's for norminal gains I believe it's still alright.
Main point is to adapt to the situation and tailor your business to their needs.

2:31 PM  

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