Bu Toa’s Scrubs

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Pak Markita (‘Pak’ = Mr.) works in a hotel in Bali as a Food & Beverage supervisor. It has been ten years and business is at the lowest point. As many other hoteliers, his monthly income is partly determined by a service charge, which hasn’t shown a silver lining in the past five months, following dropping number of visitors to the island. He receives less than he did a year ago by 20 to 30 percent, which is why he is forced to think ways to make extra money. After a number of attempts did not seem to work as expected, from selling hookah coals to restaurants and night clubs to have a double job as a karaoke bar manager in the evening, Pak Markita starts to share his burden with his wife, hoping she can offer some ideas.

Bu Markita (‘Bu’ = Mrs. or Ms.) is a housekeeper in a hotel. As in her husband’s case, monthly income has also been affected quite significantly since the beginning of the year. They have two young children and the cost of living as Balinese where traditions are unavoidable and religious ceremonies are frequent and cost a lot of money can be overwhelming at times. She, too, has to squeeze her brain, thinking of how to make ends meet. Now, in their bedroom, lying in bed, her husband – usually stoic and dominant – speaks to her as if the sun will not rise tomorrow. For the next hour, they talk not only about what to sell, but also about what to do. Borrowing money from a relative will only put their family in further stress. Selling their only car will also put their family in distress in the long run. Selling her husband’s old moped will only save the family for less than a month. Moving to her parents’ house and renting their family home is not an option, especially for Pak Markita, because his pride as the man in the house just won’t allow it.

Then she comes up with an idea, albeit self-doubtedly: spa scrubs. She knows a company owner that does spa products, and she has been using this scrub cream for a month because it is fairly cheap and she feels her skin softened. That particular brand is not as well known as Brand X or Y, but it has met all the official registry and requirements. It also uses natural ingredients, something that matters nowadays. The product is also easy to apply. She can scrub her legs and armpits while watching TV. It does not feel as sticky as similar products sold in supermarkets, and she can sweeps the dirt easily off the floor after the scrubbing is done.

Pak Markita immediately feels uneasy. He has never sold any products that are specifically designed to target women. Nonetheless, he knows it is time for him to look to that direction. His mind start to weigh in and map out strategies. His wife gets up and goes to the kitchen. She prepares coffee for both of them, feeling that it is going to be a long night.

“Who do you think is the worst gossiper in the neighborhood?” Pak Markita’s voice breaks the silence in the house. His wife cannot believe what she just heard. She returns to the bedroom with a tray in her hands. Hot Bali coffee and fried tofu from this afternoon are served.

“Why do you want to know?” she says, losing grounds to where the conversation will lead.

“Just tell me. I’ll tell you why later.” Pak Markita sips his coffee.

“Well, there are some gossipers out there,” Bu Markita says.

“The worst one!” says her husband, chewing tofu in his mouth.

“It should be Bu Toa. She’s the worst of the worst. She can gossip morning to sunset.” says Bu Markita.

Pak Markita grins. Bu Markita’s forehead frowns, demanding explanation.

“Do you still have the unopened pot of that scrubs?” The man says. His eyes flicker.

“Well, yes. I bought two and have only used one of them. Why?” The lady starts to lose her patience. Her coffee starts to lose its heat.

“Give the unopened pot of scrubs to her. Give it to Bu Toa tomorrow. For free. Sell what good the scrubs do to you, but don’t sell it for money yet,” Pak Markita says with determination.

“What if she insists on paying?” his wife says.

“Don’t let her,” he says, finishing all the tofus on the plate, and gulping his coffee. “She’s the worst gossiper, right? If she pays and she thinks the product is bad, she will tell the world about how bad it is, and you will not sell anything because the other women will listen to her. If the product turns out bad for her, at least she will not say anything because she knows she’s got it for free.”

Bu Markita giggles, but she knows her husband may be right. It is a worth trying experiment. That scrubs will go to Bu Toa first thing in the morning. The middle aged couple finish their coffee, and contrary to the belief about the effect of coffee, they sleep soundly and snore that night.

It’s the next day. Pak Markita drops his oldest to school and goes to work. Bu Markita drops by at Bu Toa’s house with her younger son. She pretends she needs to ask her if she knows where to order yellow rice for her boss’s birthday. After that, she presents the scrub cream, with coffee aroma, to her unexpected neighbor, telling her it is free. Bu Toa pretends to protest, but keeps her gift eventually, and thankfully. Bu Markita goes on to drop off her son at her parents’ house and off to work.

A week passes and nothing happens in the Markitas household. On the eight day, a neighbor from the next block knocks on their door. She asks if she can buy a pot of scrub cream. Pak Markita purchased a set of 12 pots of scrubs days before, each with a different aroma. His wife now presents all of the 12 pots in front of the neighbor who ends up buying two of them. The next day, she sells another two to a different neighbor. On the third day of the selling, it is Bu Toa who shows up at her door, taking her sister. Bu Toa boasts that her husband has been complementing the glow on her skin after using the scrubs and now she wants to buy the jasmine variant. Her sister buys three pots, saying she will keep one and give out the rest to her colleagues at work. She asks if it is possible to be a reseller of the product. Yes! Of course! On the next day, Pak Markita has to restock his wife’s ‘shop’. Bu Markita is overjoyed. Not only has she successfully sold all of her scrubs, she now has six resellers at almost zero marketing cost. Bu Toa, the worst of gossipers in the neighborhood, has become her best marketing agent!

Both the Markitas are still struggling to make ends meet, but this time with a more positive outlook. With their scrubs, they now look into their work places for possibilities. They know they only need to find one person in each circle to make the plan work: the worst gossiper!

On flexibility & emotion

A week ago I attended a digital marketing seminar organized by Marketing Interactive, a Singapore based company. This was my second time joining their event in Jakarta. Last year, the seminar talked more about how customers’ behavior had changed in the face of the digital era and how companies of different industries turned to digital when it comes to market their products and services. It was also emphasizing the power of visuals. This year, the keynote speakers – that came from medium to gigantic scale corporations and startups – mostly focused their strategy to making engaging videos. Still visual, but moving. Brands move fluidly to respond to fast-pacing change of trends. Customers are hardly loyal. Generation Z are not a loyal group. Their attention needs to be constantly disrupted. Patterns need to be broken in order to get attention, let alone, go viral. Companies splurge on video making to project their brands’ images. Video making companies flourish offering customer behavioral approach at a skyrocketing cost, well seen from the perspective of a small company’s worker like myself, of course.

After Day One was over, I met with some friends at a bar not far from the 5* hotel the 2-day where the seminar was taking place. One of my friends works for a reputable travel magazine – one of a few print magazines that still survive in the wake of  the ‘everything digital’ age. Newspaper and magazines met their dooms one by one. Only those that either have segmented readerships or have solid digital platforms keep thriving. Lucky for my friend, she works for the thriving one. It’s no secret that advertising in print media is expensive, thanks to… well, all the labor of printing! Businesses now turn much of their marketing budget to online advertising, simply because it is cheaper and more measurable when it comes to ROI.

It was just after 6 PM when each of us finished our second glass of cocktail. Tipsy and all, we started to strip off our surface gentility and reveal ourselves more true to ourselves. Turned out six of us (there was about 12 of us) were Javanese, so we took the liberty of mixing English, Bahasa Indonesian, and Javanese in our exchanges that night. It was so much fun. So fluid. Everyone was laughing. Nobody was offended. All felt good.

Catching up with friends and cocktail are two ways to good feelings!

Emotions. Those are what tie people together, whatever changes that may take place. Emotions are what people share and spread. Bad emotions: anger, sadness, anxiety, a loss of some sort. Good emotions: cuteness, silliness, the world-is-still-a-good-place-to-be kind of feeling. One of the keynote speakers from a company called Unruly at the seminar couldn’t stress this enough. Brands play with emotions these days. They can’t help that.

A room with a city view

I came to remember the day I checked in at a hotel in Jakarta; what I experienced was multiple disappointment. First, I had requested a smoking room, but I could not have it. “We are full,” the receptionist said. “But we can move you to a smoking room tomorrow.” How convenient it was to have an elevator ride to the hotel foyer every time I had the urge.

The next day at the hotel, I got most of what I’d wanted granted. I got a smoking room and my phone’s reception went normal. I didn’t have the city view like what I had in the first room, though. In fact, there was no view at all, but I did not want to fight for a view at this point. I guess the hotel had successfully played with this particular guest’s spectrum of happiness. By being flexible, they restored most of her good feelings. Emotion.

I understand not all business people understand the concept of flexibility and emotion. Like the other day when I gave a hotel voucher I had won in an event to a friend of mine because I thought I was not going to use it. Bad news was its validity would expire within days and my friend did not plan to use it anytime soon. Then she emailed the contact person who happened to be the hotel’s PR to ask if it was possible to have it extended. Good news: it was possible. BUT… here comes the bad news, she still had to mail the original physical voucher back to the hotel so that the PR could issue a new one. Small, but itchy inconvenience. Knowing her (the PR), I texted her asking if she would give some sort of leniency as to allow my friend to bring the invalid voucher upon check in. Her flexibility had stopped the moment she told my friend the voucher was renewable. My friend was disappointed. I was disappointed, not so much because of the fact that the hotel’s rule was different from that of my company when it comes to being flexible to business peers, but mostly because my collegue PR expressed her irritation over my friend’s and my queries. The exchanges between us ended up in somewhat ill feelings, but point was taken.

The whole thing got me thinking. If my brand is associated with being flexible in offering customers solutions to their problems, thus giving them good feelings at the end, the chance that they will return is better. Being rigid will cost a business misfortune in the (not so) long run. My brand has to respond to what the customers need. Their headaches should be lessened, if not made gone completely.

My boss loves saying, “My hires are the company’s assets. They are our investment.” I agree. Giving good feelings is also investment. Doesn’t matter if we’re in the stone age or in the Snapchat age.

Fingers crossed!