The cold droplet jolted my wandering thoughts back to the present. If only my angry stare upwards could seal that leakage in the petrol service station’s roof. I adjusted my stance, carefully though, to avoid stepping on the dude just by me (you definitely DO NOT want to step on the average Lagosian on a cold, windy and rainy morning). I had barely stepped out when the early morning drizzle sounded the alarm of impending rainfall but like a dutiful soldier executing his marching orders, turning back was just out of the question. And this was my reward- the heavens over Lagos had chosen to welcome us to the second half of the year (Happy New Month!) with its unsolicited ‘showers of blessings’.
tppp…tppp…tppp… what’s that?
The roof had sprung another leak as the skies showed no mercy and sure enough, the mini-baptism resumed. Another slight adjustment, and a silent yet very desperate prayer shot up to heaven “Lord, plllleeeaassseee let this rain subside so I can get out of here, fast!”. As I anticipated the answer to my prayer, my face slightly moistened by the wet, cool air, my lesson showed up.
You know that thing about all of life being a school? Well, it’s not just some sentimental gibberish. It’s true- mostly.
shower cap wasio! nylon wasio*!
shower cap wasio! nylon wasio!
He looked like he was somewhere between 38 and 45. His simple, faded traditional clothes screamed their all too frequent usage. With short but very brisk strides, he approached the increasing crowd of shelter seekers. Spotting a handful of brightly coloured shower caps and a pile of nylon raincoats concealed in transparent packaging, this middle aged man made us all seem like cowards as he bounded through the puddles. Recall those days we played in the rain? Ahh…the joys of childhood.
shower cap wasio! nylon wasio!
It took all of about 20 seconds for his first customer to ask for a shower cap. Not surprisingly, it was a woman. She had probably misread the weather and left her precious shower cap at home. How does a woman manage to forget her shower cap at the peak of the rain season? She quickly paid and slipped on her new accessory to protect her already dampening hair. She wasn’t the only one though. Infact, it seemed almost all the women at the service station forgot their shower caps at home! The next few minutes turned out to be a buying frenzy. A man, seeking to protect his well-pressed, light blue shirt from the rain and possible stains requested for a nylon raincoat and smiled shyly as he put it on. He probably wasn’t too proud of his new vest but wetin man go do? Better to look funny than end up dripping wet! With each purchase, another person realised their need for this hot, new product and right before my eyes, about 70% of the seller’s products were gone; wasio notes and nylon products changed ownership swiftly. Talk about market penetration.
Here’s what I learned afresh.
Every man’s problem is some other man’s opportunity. By providing an immediate, easy-to-use solution to a present problem, that man did more business in a few minutes than he’d have normally done for most of the day. Let’s learn to open our minds to the problems around us and determine which we can provide workable and ‘buyable’ solutions to. Our opportunities are found in noticing and creating/providing solutions to problems, not in racking our heads for the ‘next big idea’ per se. Learn from the shower cap man.
He came to us. From where? I do not know. But the willingness to meet his potential customers right where they were all but guaranteed his success. He made it extremely easy. Just when someone realised she’d left her shower cap at home, here was this man with the exact solution to that problem. He dropped his line where the fish were biting, so to speak.
Whoever you are, you have potential customers. We all do. There are people who will pay for your skill, (developed) talent, experience, service and/or product. Do you know where they are? Are they aware of your existence? Or are you hiding out in a corner with the thought that “when they need me, they’ll seek for me”? Learn from the shower cap man.
All through the time he sold his wares, he never bothered to step out from under the rain. Not once. What selling point could be stronger? He was in effect saying, “buy this and you can damn the rain and head off to work just like me instead of huddling up like frightened chickens, wasting your precious time”. He was essentially flaunting, NOT his goods, but his solution.
First, it’s not about your skill, experience, training or talent. It’s about the solution they provide. Think of your skills, services, infact, think of YOURSELF in terms of the solutions you can provide. Secondly, whatever solution you have, make sure it really works. Test it and be sure. As much as possible, never rely on just your words to convince your potential customers. Your customer may be another business, a person, an employer, or even a group. Always present an evidence. You claim to have a particular skill? Bring proof along. If you can do it, show it. People hardly doubt what they can see. None of us doubted the seller’s dry clothes underneath the nylon raincoat, in spite of the heavy rainfall. I didn’t. Neither did those who patronised him.
Eventually, the rain subsided and everyone hurried along. Pedestrians deftly skipped over pools of water to escape the unwanted spray from some drivers too insensitive to slow down. This is Lagos. I stumbled into the office well beyond my resumption time, stomping hard to shake off the wet sand clinging to my shoes. Reflecting on my otherwise normal experience at the petrol service station and the lessons it threw up for me, I thought of you. Hope you like it.
Enjoy the rest of July!
*wasio: a colloquial description of the 50 naira note (a denomination of the Nigerian currency)
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