Salaam, Mrs. Qureshi. Want to Buy a Used Garment?
Anybody can do this.
Mrs. Qureshi is coming to collect her children from Hope-of-the-Community Primary School in the generic suburb of Anytown, Uniculture, Continent C.
By chance, we have located our shop across the street from the school. She arrives a bit early and comes to our shop.
As you look out our door, the wealthier people live to the right. Mrs. Qureshi lives to the left. Our small start-up church actually meets a quarter mile to the left.
This shop depends on: location, donation, intensive labor, community reputation, minimally-skilled management, culturally-aware business sensibility, and disciple-makers who fit this context.
Donation. This profitable non-profit business has two major sources of donations — church people and their networks who want the shop to succeed, and wealthier people from the community who live to the right. The church people are not wealthy and the vast majority of the wealthier people are not wealthy by US standards. In this case, we are in an 85% South Asian neighborhood in London.
Those who are better off here see charity as an obligation, so they donate. All donations are welcome. The quantity of donations is large; 75% never make the shop front. That 75% is sold very cheaply in bulk, mostly to a “rag man.”
[Would it work on a different scale in a strategic location in an African or Indian town where most discards at the dump are another man’s treasure? I don’t know; can you give it a try without taking away the rag pickers’ livelihoods? In this case, it’s not about (per America) cleaning out my garage; the community seems to see a value in “passing it on” and the shop has a stated charitable purpose its income; 20% goes to a school for children living in poverty in India]
Labor. It takes hours, endurance and workers to sort and price out resalable product. This in itself is a community-building environment and employs some workers. A few of the workers are employed (some volunteer) as shop staff.
Community. It’s not just the location and the shop front that draws clientele. The workers are the community, and they are intentionally reaching out, engaging, relating and making disciples. The shop is as much community center as retail spot, so there is a place to sit and talk over tea.
Management. The genius here is not in business skill. Though more skill would be helpful. It’s in location, but perhaps more in community. The intentional church community, small as it may be, can be taught to give and will give both goods and themselves. (The start-up becomes a teaching opportunity on every aspect of giving!) The shop becomes a vehicle for the larger community to be drawn into this grace of giving. Managing the giving process and motivational forces is as important as managing staffing, overhead, sales, etc.
Culture. Mrs. Qureshi wants garments that are “her” and her culture. She also wants them at a price that fits her. Her understanding of price is that it can be negotiated, especially since she knows these are donated goods. Nothing is free. She won’t be shamed by her limited resources, but also she doesn’t believe a fixed price. Key workers will know good product and reasonable prices, whether or not items are marked.
This is a simple thought and obvious in much of the world, but similar “cultural thoughts” are often lost on obtuse and ethnocentric outsiders who come in with a better, more efficient capitalism. The market has to make sense locally. Westernized foreigners who see our shop staff-person, Parvinder, striking a deal that is “too good” with Mrs. Qureshi may cringe. Yet, the market has to make sense relationally in the local community.
Disciple-Makers in Context.
Not anybody can do this.
Within a year, I saw Parvinder find new life in Jesus, get involved, bring in new workers, personalize sales, share her faith boldly, and become a central force in the attitude and operations of the shop. She was leading locally in business and mission.
The basic concept, start-up, and operations may need an outsider’s inspiration and push — and flexibility depending on the setting, but as I have personally experienced, business genius is not required. Location is very important.
Key to everything are a few workers who know the Lord Jesus and can make him known by their integrity, their protection of the integrity of the business, their interest in the product, their eagerness to match the product to the needs of the customer community, and a day-to-day engagement that says, “Ahh, Mrs. Qureshi! Welcome!”
Check us out at Cross-Cultural Business As Mission