Once a month, our store operators come to a company wide meeting. We used to hold this session in our training space, but since we have grown so much over the past year, we are now holding the meeting in a large multi-purpose room at a local university. The women take multiple buses and walk many miles to get to us, but they always make it a priority to come. Most of them have never felt a part of something like this before. They are going to a business meeting! They dress up and come as professional women, which is an opportunity most have never had before. The women bring their children, their store helpers, their husbands sometimes. At the meetings, we tell them about new initiatives, new programs, and provide ongoing training.
The best part, however, is at the end, when we give all the women an opportunity to provide feedback. They can go to different staff members, scattered around the room, and give input and ideas or express concerns. This isn’t just show for us, we truly value their ideas and what the women have to say! After all, these women know more about their customers than we ever will. So when many many store operators come to us asking for the same products, we listen. Then we go do more market research and figure out if these products will have significant margins for our women.
A year ago, I was very hesitant to introduce home goods into our stores. Our store operators kept telling me that they would sell well, but I felt it was inconsistent with our branding. Eventually, the motivation to increase sales at our stores outweighed the branding concerns and we introduced a few cleaning products. It turned out to be the right move, as these products bring more customers into our stores now. The margins might not be the highest for these goods, but if they draw in more customers who will also buy our produce, it’s worth it!
We just introduced 4 more personal products: diapers, toothbrushes, deodorant, and hair gel. The other two new products are Maseca, which is corn flour used to make tortillas, and Escolar cookies.
In Nicaragua, women living in poverty are not taught that their ideas are valued. In this patriarchal society, it is uncommon for women to lead, to contribute ideas, to be in business. I love that we give these women the opportunity to express their ideas and have influence over Mercado Fresco as a business. We love to receive their feedback and use it to make the stores better! Often, our new products are spawned from a discussion in our monthly meeting, from the voices of the business women gathered.