So, we have this small business, Flour & Flowers.
It started with just flowers in July of 2014. We simply connected with one of the ladies in our neighborhood who sells flowers in the market, and opened her up to new markets—primarily expats interested in buying beautifully arranged & delivered bouquets every week for $3.
In July 2015, we added in bread. We started with two types of bread and two young mothers from the community. We have since added two more types of bread, tortillas, and once-a-month cinnamon rolls. We added another young mother in March of this year.
We don’t much say into the flower side of business: she manages all the finances, buying, and selling. We simply provide the connection to a new market and provide a ride around town. We sometimes advise on “what foreigners like” to help advise her; but to be honest, with her being in her fifties with six boys in a hierarchical society, unless we can pull the “foreigner card,” we don’t have much authority! That said, she respects our opinions, and has done so well observing what people like, asking questions, and making improvements. I’ll let her know that around February, people are interested in pinks and reds. In October and November, pinks aren’t popular, unless there is some orange and yellow put in. And the week of Christmas, we shouldn’t see any pink at all. We need some reds!
For the flour side of things, we operate more as managers, with hiring and purchasing and oversight. We have delegated management of production & finances to the oldest of the three, and that is going so well. She has a lower-level of education, so that when we started it was a challenge for her to recall writing, reading, and math from school. She’s getting better as time goes by and she’s reading & writing each week, counting money and sorting it. She keeps all our records and figures the profits each week.
In the simplest way, and said in the most awe I can muster: It’s working.
We are making profits. We are growing and into markets we didn’t even know. It used to just be a group of our friends, perhaps just ordering in kindness. It’s spreading to people we don’t know; strangers writing us to find out how to get the great bread and fresh flowers to their door. In a small town like this, people love it: local business where a woman and her five-year-old walk to your door to bring you fresh market flowers and warm bread just baked that morning?
In the photo above, the woman to the far right is Daw Ma Oo, who sells flowers. From left to right, is Pyo Pyo, our manager and mother of 2 boys; Nyein Nyein, sister-in-law to Pyo Pyo and mother of a one-year-old son; and Pwe Pyo Hey, daughter-in-law to Daw Ma Oo and mother of a one-year-old girl.
For the bread, we started just dividing profits each week. We’d count up the money, they’d pay back cost to us, and then we’d divide it between the employees. We started to see that some weeks they’d make a small salary, while other weeks they’d get a couple days’ worth of pay in one moment. No matter what, they’d head off to the snack shop first thing.
In May of 2016, we decided to change our model. We set salaries for each of the women—the manager makes 500 baht, or $15. That’s over 150% of minimum wage for legal workers, which she isn’t; it’s a good rate, to say it simply. She does do a bit extra—she comes on Thursday evenings to start some of the loaves; she manages the kitchen and finances; & she comes along for deliveries, meaning she could work from 6am to 7pm on a long week. The other two ladies make 300 baht, or $9. This is minimum wage for an 8 hour day, again for those with papers. One of the ladies previously had a job working 12 hours for $4, so it’s a pretty epic deal for her.
All of them can bring their kids with them, if they want. They can also take breaks to nurse as needed, or to get an order child off to school.
it’s a pretty sweet deal for them, even on a weekly basis. To top it, on cinnamon roll weeks they work extra hard and start a bit earlier, so they make an extra $3 each.
In addition to this pay, we started taking all extra profits and setting it aside as a savings plan. We explained it to them, and they watched it grow. They knew if they stayed with us through the year, they’d get a savings bonus.
In the simplest way, and said in the most awe I can muster: It grew.
Our first goal was to just be in the black. As we watched it working, we started hoping maybe they could get $30 each at the end of the year.
At the beginning of January, we counted out our extra profits, including nearly $30 in change. We were able to give each of the women 3000 bah each—$100 in savings.
I think we both just stare in awe of what God’s done. He took a little idea and made it grow. He’s made it successful. He’s built relationships—we know these women, these kids, and these families well.
Honestly? I think we also sort of stare at each other in awe of how much easier it would have been to just write three checks for $100.
Or even if we wanted to include all three salaries for the entire year and the savings: about $1800. It would have been a whole lot easier to just write a check for that, too.
It isn’t easy to open up your home every week at 6 or 7am to three women and their kids—with different cleaning standards and no diapers on. It isn’t easy to drive around town and chat with foreigners for a few hours every week. It isn’t easy to balance business and friendship. It isn’t easy to teach someone who doesn’t eat bread how to bake it, in another language. It isn’t easy to explain how important it is to wash hands; how we can’t use flour that has bugs in it, but must—gasp!—throw it out; how we can’t wash Teflon with a scrubber. It isn’t easy to wait a few minutes longer for someone to count the money, again, because she just isn’t used to dealing with large money or counting.
One of the women and her husband took out a loan from us nearly two years ago. After a police raid, they were forced to move and had taken out a loan, from a loan shark, for $120. In just a few months it had grown to $700 and they were fading fast. She was pregnant with their first; they were looking to split and figure out how to pay it.
Long story short, we gave it to them interest-free. It hasn’t been an easy road, and ultimately, it let to us taking most of her salary each week, and we were then given back most of her savings. It has been a challenging road and has complicated the friendship. But I also think they’ve seen the love of Christ; they’ve learned the diligence of paying off a loan and working hard. And they’ve paid back over $500. We anticipate it all being paid back by June of this year.
It isn’t easy to share debt and suffering and life with people. It isn’t easy to talk about feelings and awkwardness and God’s love in another language.
Heck, it just isn’t so easy to live here and all that comes with it. It costs so much more–for us, for our supporters, for our families–than $1800.
It wasn’t easy, and it won’t be any time in the near future.
In the simplest way, and said in the most awe I can muster: It is good.
We are so thankful it’s working, it’s growing, and it’s good.