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THAT Chicken Shop!

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Earlier in life, I never thought of selling. I didn’t realize that I started selling right after I finished my schooling – processed chickens at my uncle’s chicken shop at a market in Taiping.

I worked there since I was thirteen, during the school holidays. My parents did not give me pocket money during the school holidays. So, I worked at the chicken shop, during almost every school holiday. Except for the two weeks that I painted our family’s new house with my father.

Reacquainting With the Chooks…

After SPM, following the two weeks of getting back to basics, i.e., the slaughter, stripping, and cleaning the chickens as a “refresher”, my role was elevated to that of the assistant manager. The customers were our family friends; thus, they knew me well. My teachers, my friend’s parents, and their friends also started to come to buy the chicken from my shop.

At times they were intrigued that this boy, who was likely going to do well in his SPM, was working doing the 3D (dirty, dangerous & demeaning) job. We didn’t call it 3D then but surely 1D was there – the chickens’ butt and removing its entrails, it surely was dirty. And the smell! Never can forget the smell!

Though being the nephew of the owner and the assistant manager, I still did the “dirty” job. When we had hundreds daily, if not thousands (during Hari Raya times) of chickens to process, I couldn’t just sit pretty at the cashier, right?

Word of Mouth, Literally

At times, I saw family or friends parked across the other side from where our shop was. I would shout out for them to come and buy chicken rather than buy beef! Or at least come over for a chat. When they came for a chat, at least a small chicken would be slaughtered, passed through the boiler, feather stripper, and ended up chopped into four, six, eight, twelve, or sixteen pieces, depending on its size.

Daily walk-in cash sales rose during the eight months I was there. It always spiked during the Hari Raya and wedding seasons. And plateaued except for during school holidays.

More Than Selling… By Not Selling?

That was my baptism of fire in the world of sales.

At the chicken shop, it sure was selling. However, I didn’t know it as such. To me, it was just a typical retail experience. Somebody wanted a chicken, came over, pick a chicken, slaughtered it, cleaned it up, and chop it into however many pieces they want. I hardly had to do any selling; the customers just came to do the buying.

Learning The Ropes of Entrepreneurship

I moved up the ladder in my sales experience. I was back home for two and a half months during my university first year’s summer holidays. When I was done with the training program with my sponsor/employer, I tagged along with my father to see and learn about his business.

My father was still a teacher at that time. He was in the early years of his entrepreneurship adventure. His primary business then was to dig up the sand from the old, depleted tin mine and the red laterite soil from the abandoned rubber plantations and sold those for site & construction materials. After a few small failures and one spectacular one, his business finally took off.

Selling On Multiple Fronts

For this business, my father had to sell on multiple fronts. He had to get the permit to dig up those commodities, from the land office. Then transport them out to where they are required. This required extremely diligent and tactful handling of people, mostly government servants from the rank of office boy to the district officer. The effort and time invested in getting the connection and building the relationship with these people is significant, if not tremendous.

Also read: Makan! (Yes, Eat..)

Next, was to sell these commodities to the construction companies, often there were two or three layers – main contractors & subcontractors. At times, also to politicians who had an interest in the project.

That was my first exposure to strategic or power base selling.

I had observed my father performing power base selling and selling with colors before these were even given any name.

Relationships

Building the relationships required one to be able to maintain excitement and fun. When my father went up to meet with the senior officers, they would typically be short and sharp. Before the permit was issued, compliance with procedures and rules had to be observed. Many different kinds of people were involved.

Following these successful connections, and trust as the products and services were delivered, my father’s relationships with those involved became stronger and kept getting stronger. Thus, more business opportunities came his way. Some were not even asked for.

One day, his great friend Ah Guan, a businessman from Penang asked my father if he would like to expand his business by providing lorries to transport red earth to construction sites. Specifically, the sites where the North-South Highway was constructed for the Taiping to Butterworth parcel/stretch. Ah Guan only wanted to provide backhoe/excavator services.

Clueless!

My father had no clue on how to do that business. No problem! Ah Guan and his trusted network of businessmen paved the way and provided advice and assistance. All the way from buying the lorries, getting the financing, and to getting the contract from the main contractor.

My father of course supplied the red earth as well. The power of trust was built on solid relationships.

Connections

In all these years, and from my own experience, it had been very clear to me that while connections are important, more important would be how these connections were made and nurtured. To connect, you need to understand the other person.

These persons that you acquaint with and later become friends with might end up being very valuable to you, and you to him. In many ways. He might even guide or “goad” you into your career. Where you will excel.

Often, we do not plan to be “doing sales” and many other things. However, as we go through life, there are lessons and learnings that we can use and share with people. Be aware of this and take stock of what you learned. It might point you out toward what you do best.

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