About a year ago, we started a flower delivery service. A sweet family in the neighborhood had been forced into much nicer housing, it was difficult to make ends meet within their flower business; we knew plenty of foreigners who would likely love having fresh flowers at home regularly, but didn’t want to make the trip to the market. To explain our different situation: instead of having flowers for sale in large supermarkets as in America, the large supermarkets don’t carry them here. Instead, they are only available in the crowded, outdoor, very local market in town. I have to say this is my favorite place in town, but it does take some getting used to with the crowds, stares, comments, animal blood, fish smells, live animals, and urinating. If you buy your groceries in the larger stores in town, making an extra trip to the market for flowers is a significant hassle. But they are only a couple dollars! And beautiful! And thus, it was a pretty simple model: our neighbor had the business established, and our responsibility was to create list of interested customers and keep in touch with them week-to-week.
We spend an hour or two each Friday making the deliveries, which has turned out to be such fun. Two hours in the car gives you time to talk about things, even with a language barrier. She teaches me new words and we learn to communicate and discuss her family, her business, and her plans for the future. We were even able to provide a micro loan to help her send her two boys to school this year, which she then paid back in small increments each week after flowers, when she had a small surplus from the increased business. The flower delivery has been rewarding!
It wasn’t long after this delivery service was successful that we wondered what else we might sell. We were already making the rounds around town, and we have a crowd of people looking for extra income. Western food seemed the obvious choice, particularly bread, which we Westerners would all love to be eating regularly but struggle to find around town or, even harder, find time & an oven to make. I love to cook and bake, and it seemed a skill we could share with our neighbors.
But it also seemed a much bigger commitment that was much more dependent on us. Where before we had a person with a business and with a system, we now had to choose the individual, teach the skill, provide the location and set up weekly, determine the costs and prices, and then explain the ins-and-outs of a small business. Oh, and in another language.
For some reason that seemed daunting.
So we kept it on the back burner and kept praying and discussing it. For any of you who don’t know Stephen & I’s decision-making-method, it is over-think, over-talk, and over-analyze it to the death.
A few months ago, we identified our people. After visiting the tea shop each week with the same small group, we found two women that seemed a great fit for it. Phyo Phyo & Nyein Nyein are sister-in-laws. They get along well and both have been looking for work. Phyo Phyo worked at a restaurant briefly earlier this year and told us how much she liked it; she loves to cook and brings us samples a few times each week. She has a three-year-old son that attends school, but as a mother, previous jobs she’s had have been too schedule-intensive to maintain her life and family. Nyein Nyein is twenty and pregnant with her first child due in early December. We know she & her husband well (Phyo Phyo’s younger brother) and it seemed a great fit that she could be a mother but also work a little on the side.
Choosing the people was one of the larger challenges, so I began to make a plan. I had them help me with a large cookie-baking day last month, and it went great. We started considering September for a start date, which gave us time to figure costs and ensure there was a market. I started measuring out my recipes more specifically and deciding what costs would be. And just last week I went to the shop to purchase bread pans so I could begin making regulated practice batches.
That was the Sunday Nyein Nyein told us she’d gotten a job. She’d be working at a clothing factory just near our house, working three four-hour shifts during the day–a twelve-hour day, seven days a week, for around $6 per day.
Read: Plan A, out the window.
We weren’t sure who to have join Phyo Phyo, but felt we needed two people. And while it would make Nyein Nyein much better money per hour, it just couldn’t compare over the week or month.
Then I came home a few days later, and Nyein Nyein was on our front porch with Phyo Phyo and the rest of the community. I asked why she was there, as this hour was, of course, within her 12-hour shift. She said they found out she was pregnant and wouldn’t hire or train her; it seems it wasn’t worth the investment to them.
And so, it seemed it was time to start. Nyein Nyein needed the work and would probably look for something else; maybe this would provide a healthier way for her to work while pregnant and even after the baby. It felt like all of our thinking and planning for a few months from now should just be put into place and happen.
So it did. I talked to Phyo Phyo & Nyein Nyein that evening, and they were excited at the idea. I talked to Daw Ma Oo to ask how she felt about bread deliveries happening alongside flower deliveries, and she seemed hopeful. I wrote our flower delivery customers on Facebook and told them about our new little venture, and we had some positive responses.
So this week, I spent my language lessons learning about “kitchen words”–ingredient names, how to say fractions, how to talk about bread rising, and more. I wrote out the recipe in Burmese and labeled necessary ingredients with Burmese tags.
We made four batches to practice, making some small samples for prospective customers plus loaves to sell if we could. I talked to them about the cost involved in each batch for ingredients and electricity, and we made a plan for them to collect all the money from sales and then pay us back costs for the number of batches they made. They will then split the profits on a weekly basis.
And Friday, we made our first deliveries as a group of four! We trekked around town offering bread & flowers out of the back of our little Zuk. For all it’s quirks, our car allows for so many opportunities in the community.
We sold all of the loaves we had with us Friday, which gave each of them about $5 in profits. This is about a day’s wage here for an undocumented worker, so considering their hours invested, this is not a bad rate. We do still hope it will increase as sales increase in the future.