Indonesia Anonymus

We are a group of Indonesians, ranting about our beloved country. This blog is a result of many people grumbling about many things in many ways.
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Anonymus is the Latin word for anonymous, the correct English spelling. The Latin spelling, however, is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to an ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work. Read more at Wikipedia.

Our blog in Bahasa Indonesia (but rarely updated) can be found here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ibu Syam and her shop

"I am closing down my shop, son". Ibu Syam calls everybody younger as if they are her children. "It's not making any money and I cannot afford to keep it. I am getting old, and the bills, oh my God.."

Ibu Syam owns a small shop right by her house, selling everything from soaps to snacks and drinks. Even stamps. It's a tiny little shop managed solely by her.
She was a teacher, so she said, teaching at a junior high school, before she retired a few years back. She used a big part of her life-savings as capital to open her little shop.
Her husband passed away a long time ago, her two sons both are college graduates, hold good jobs, happily married and live on the other side of the city. So Ibu Syam is planning to close and move in with one of them.

How do we get to know Ibu Syam? R, one of our colleague, jogs around the block of his house every weekend, and towards the end of his jogging route, he likes to drop by at Ibu Syam's shop for a sip of cold teh-botol (bottled tea, very popular in Indonesia, more popular than cola to some).
It is always early in the morning and Ibu Syam's shop is the only one that opens early. It was a nice little shop. Clean, bright, right in the corner of the street, and in a well-off neighborhood.

"I am not making any profit at all. People just don't go to small shops anymore. They prefer to go to supermarkets, or hypermarkets or whatever you call those giant stores...

Even my next door neighbors sent their maids to Carref0ur only to buy 2 bars of soap and nothing else... I don't understand. I sell that brand of soap, I am right next door, and my price is only Rp.100 more -- believe me, I checked -- and yet, they go to Carref0ur..

"Is it possible to match the big store's price? So you can compete?" Asked our colleague.

"Wake up, son. I can't buy in large bulk like those stores. I don't have the money. Even if I could, and I have it all in stock, who's going to buy? People don't even come by anymore. They never ask whether I have what they need or not, let alone asking about the price... They just automatically go to supermarkets when they need something..."

R felt guilty. He is one of those 'people' Ibu Syam is referring to.

"I can't compete with those guys... Their price is cheaper and they open until late everyday including Saturdays and Sundays. I only have myself to man this shop. If I open like they do, when can I rest? I can't afford to hire anybody..."

Ibu Syam shrugged her shoulders. "I am not the only one, you know. A lot of small shop owners have the same fate. Soon we will all be gone. And sadly, no one cares.
We will all happily stroll to Carref0ur..."

Oh no, Ibu Syam. Please say it ain't so.

Shouldn't we protect our small businesses from getting trampled by giants?
By limiting big retailers' opening hours, for example?
A while back we were in Germany and we were really annoyed by the stores' opening hours. They close really early on weekdays and don't open on weekends. Shopping was a pain. So we praised Indonesian businesses for 'working really hard' and willing to open late even on weekends. (Recently we heard Germany ease up the rule a bit and stores can open on limited hours on Saturday).

Now, after what we learned from Ibu Syam, we have a second thought.
Maybe it would be good for the economy if big retailers are not allowed to open on Sundays and limited hours on Saturdays.
Give small businesses a chance to survive.

Is that protectionism? Of course not. Even a level playing field is not fair enough for the little guys. Law is about protecting the weak. If we won't protect them, then who would?

Or, if it is impossible to hope for some kind of law that can protect our own little people, then let's do it the easy way:
The next time you are in need of a bar of soap, or a bottle of shampoo, or a stamp, try next door first. Buy them at your neighbour's little shop.
Let your money stay longer in the hand of our own people, instead of going to a French large retailer...

And if Ibu Syam's story is not enough to persuade you, think about it this way:
How do you feel if Ibu Syam was your mother?

"Beli di toko sebelah". That should be our motto.

Beli di toko sebelah : Buy it next door.