MBA generally denotes the ending of a student’s formal education and thus in this time frame of 2 years a person must have the maximum willingness to learn and indulge in observed learning. Out of the conventional methods of learning, interviewing experts and making observations has been credited as a credible source to add to one’s knowledge.
Before I begin to highlight your learning, I would like to take you through a Product Development project which was assigned to our class by our professor to make us learn the 4 P’s of marketing, finance decisions as well as operational efficiency better. In groups of 6, we were to interview a vendor near our campus regarding their product, pricing, budgeting, promotion, placement, consumer behavior, functioning and other questions that would probe us if we were to start a similar business and present a report highlighting the learning. While the task seemed difficult and futile then; now the value of the project can be felt and needs to be shared to invoke learning.
The importance of these 5 people is that these people are already selling in a controlled market; can provide you with exposure to real time challenges at minimal learning costs and are mostly entrepreneurs who unconsciously manage the finance, marketing, operations and human resources for their little ventures. So let us now explore who these 5 different people around your campus are:
The canteen caterer is an excellent person who can guide you over operations and product placement. Just catch and ask him, how he chooses one product over another; how does he judge whether his customer would like an otherwise highly sold product in other markets; how does he decide the variety of products he wants to keep in his store etc.
If he keeps bakery products, how does he find out which pastry would sell more and what price; how does he plan his offering; how does he charge for the ingredients; does he make the product there or somewhere else; if somewhere else, how does he charge for the transportation? How does he train, recruit and manage the staff? How does he manage the ambience and maintain it? What does it take to manage a team of low skilled, semi skilled and highly skilled people?
If he keeps branded products, ask him about the kind of margins the wholesaler provides for; how often does he reorder; how does he replace a non selling product with a new one which might not sell at all. Each and every question must be attached to a why because it this ‘why’ that will bring in your learning.
One of the busiest shopkeepers in campus is a stationery shopkeeper. This person caters to a wide variety of clients on a day to day basis and runs a monopoly in the campus. Within a limited operational period, he not only sells, takes feedbacks, gets orders and different requirements, makes profits through margins as well as serves the need of the customer.
Ask him, how he markets i.e. displays all his products in a little shop that he runs; how he reacts to complains and feedbacks; how does he arrange for the different orders placed by the customers; how he estimates the offering he has to make; how he finances and plan to expand; how he plans his profits and does that make enough living? How does he obtain products from wholesalers and bargain for margins? Learn it to inculcate it before going to the market yourself!
Most people love spicy snacks but has anyone ever wondered how does a seller price his products? Ask and understand how the seller charges you for ingredients from his complete pool of ingredients. Further, go in detail to the extent of how does he charge for the oil he uses for frying?
Think from a seller’s point of view and not a consumer’s point of view. Ask him how he maintains hygiene; cater to diverse needs of the customers; dispose of the garbage, estimate the requirements to begin operations as well as the source of his raw materials. These questions will bring to your notice how quality, price, hygiene, ingredients are played with to earn profits in a business with highly customized offering where each customer wants his own kind of a product.
Outside the institutions, generally many tea sellers or Dhabas are found who compete for the attention of more and more customers every day. What needs to be learnt is the maintenance of quality, financing of preliminary expenditures, handing of operating as well as running costs, abiding with statutory compliances, dealing with various types of customers and legal agents.
It is good for you to understand how they plan their product, make changes in them and make the product run. It is crucial to understand that the recipe for a simple tea differs from one seller to another right from quantity to ingredients and this is what differentiates one seller from another.
Further one can learn how to source products; manage the profits; work with minimum basic inventory as well as budget for raw materials. These people are excellent forecasters of demand and compete with each other using techniques like differential pricing, quality, providing credit facility, promotion, discounts etc. Forecasting will help you learn operations better while marketing tools will make you understand how to bear and adjust the costs of marketing.
A photocopy shopkeeper deals with most of the students. As a result he enjoys a never ending demand for notes and printouts at his shop. Generally such people enjoy monopoly due to limited or few units in the campus or nearby campus. From such shopkeepers you can learn the art of inventory management just like from other shopkeepers. He can also tell you how to deal with immense demand when supply is limited. This person can guide you how to manage your time well and when is the right opportunity for you to take actions. This entrepreneur has a selected few goods and earns through them hence you can learn how to manage with high demand and the least product variety.
This exercise might sound futile and waste to some; but one must understand that to make chocolate, you need to first know the nature of the cocoa plant and grow it! With a hope that you would learn something from these micro-entrepreneurs I leave you the thought that ‘a person doesn’t need to be great if you have to learn from him; you can learn from a bird on a tree or a professor in the classroom; in fact anyone and your learning totally depends upon how much you are willing to learn, striving to learn and apply.’
Contributed by Chayan Jain (Class of 2011-2013, IBS HYDERABAD)