The Selling And Buying of Crap

I knew that that last post would piss somebody off. Please read the comments to get a more clear handle of what I was trying to say. Hell, I am Indian. I would never suggest that Indians are “dumb” or “unsophisticated”. Rather, due to the increasingly dominant youth ethic here, some cultural miens are reflecting youthful ideals and attitudes. And in my way of thinking, youthful can be both good and bad. The good is manifested as confidence, energy and optimism. The bad is aggression, confrontationalism, hormonalism, and simplistic ideas about the roles of men and women and their relationship with one another.

Enough on that topic.

My time in India has seen a marked decrease in my fitness level. Due to a lack of gym, my upper body has lost 20-30% of its muscle mass. (Though my enormous head remains its mutant size.) The good part of this is that my clothes size now matches the typical Indian’s. In fact, one of the great joys of this place, for me, is that the clothing industry caters to my bodily dimensions, which are, now that I am muscle-free, standard Indian! (Though I, a dwarf of a man in North America, am on the tall and stocky side in South India!)

This morning alone I spent $300 on clothes which would have cost me over $1000 in Canada. This is the tourist pull of India: the fundamentally unfair consequences of global monetary policy, which sees the rupee devalued against Western currencies. One rupee is worth about 2.6 Canadian cents, and you can get a very good meal here for under 30 rupees. Due to this fact, peons from the West are treated like kings here. It is seductive, but deeply unjust. The average Indian works 10 times harder than the average North American, with no social safety net, and receives a tiny fraction in remuneration for the true value of his labour. Let us not forget that this devaluing of labour is the reason we in the West/North can afford our daily items: they are all manufactured using cheap Southern labour.

But who am I to preach? I’m just another fat, monied tourist sustaining this bloated industry of exploitation and excess. Yes, I have given money to some beggars, but like most people here, I avert my eyes and ignore most of them. There is a practical aspect to this behaviour, since to open your wallet to one means being inundated by a sea of others. The same logic applies t the various touts who accost you as soon as you step onto the street. Which brings me to my observation for the day: the Indian man on the street really needs to learn some basic marketing and sales theory.

Yesterday I walked into a swanky store and purchased an expensive pair of high quality sunglasses, which I wore as I walked back onto the street. Immediately, I was beset by five young men, each trying to sell me cheap knock-off sunglasses. The foolishness is innate: first, why would I want to buy cheap sunglasses when I’m already wearing a pair of expensive ones? Second, if I say no to the first, second, third and fourth fellow, why would the fifth fellow waste his time trying to sell me the same unneeded item?

I don’t mean to belittle their plight. Far from it. I fully understand these men, as I have relatives in similar situations. Most of them are key breadwinners in extended families; the few rupees they bring home feed dozens, might send younger brother to school, might pay for sister’s wedding. Some work so hard that they sleep on the same sidewalks on which they tout, rarely seeing the families they support. They work 10-15 hour days slogging this crap on the hot city streets, and they don’t even get to keep the money they make from the sale, since more than half goes to the fellow they work for, the uber-dude who pushes the knock-off sunglasses onto them.

For this uber-dude, of course it makes sense to blanket the city with a thousand men all selling the same crap; he has nothing to lose, no labour overhead. But for the young sellers, it’s a losing proposition; no salesman will ever get rich in this line of work. I doubt he’ll even break even. But at least sunglasses are somewhat useful. Sadder still are the men selling enormous maps of India; I can’t imagine a single tourist buying one of those monstrous things, yet tourists are beset by mobs of men selling maps at every turn. The children try to sell meaningless items, like safety pins and ball-point pens –items we get for free and toss away without thinking.

I can imagine a young man deciding that he needs to start selling. But sell what? He is approached by several of the uber-dudes, or sees his friends selling crap. What possesses him to choose big honking maps to sell? What further possesses him to hang around the other map sellers, knowing that in the unlikely event that a buyer approaches, only one of them could make the sale?

I think a business professor could do a lot of good by giving a couple of free seminars to the wandering vendors. Simple concepts like choosing a territory (ie, one where no one else is selling), recognizing a customer (ie, not touting sunglasses to a guy wearing sunglasses) and selecting an appropriate product (ie, what traveller has room in his backpack for a gi-normous map of India?) would do a lot of good for these fellows.

I think, as a result of this environment, those Indians who have evolved a shrewd and calculating business mind quickly rise to the top. Is this why, despite the ocean of seemingly hopeless salesman, there are also numerous very wealthy merchants who also deal in crap? The Indian streets as a Darwinian laboratory for business: there’s a thesis there for somebody, methinks.