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Night market business model- inexpensive way to grow a small business

Sometimes marketing a business need not be complicated or expensive. You can even meet with success by concentrating on selling just one core product- this is especially true in food business.

Recently, we stopped by a stall at the night market. This stall was selling fresh baked sak kei mah (萨骑马)- a Chinese snack. The thing about sak keh mah is that it taste nice if it is freshly out from the oven. Most people would buy packets of it back when they happened to be visiting the Northern Peninsular like Ipoh or Penang. Many night markets are beginning to sell fresh sak keh mah.

Which brings me to a very interesting business model that I observe this sak keh mah seller is doing which I only realised after I bought 2 packets of the sak keh mah back.

Sak keh mah

The night market or any weekend market is a good way to promote your budding food business or a sort of a part time gig to earn some honest side income. The best thing to promote is food because folks who walked the night market love to take back some snacks along with them.

The lady who sold the sak keh mah was very courteous and friendly- there are even generous free portions to try out for those who wanted to test before buying. After testing and not buying? No worries- she is not going to give you a nasty stare because she would be too busy trying to cut out the sak keh mah for others who are interested to buy.

Anway, for some consumers (like me), there would be a time lapse between seeing, tasting and buying. I saw the lady selling when I went there sometime back but I did not stop to buy. But the last time, at a moment of weakness (also because I’ve not taken my dinner 🙂 ), I decided to buy not 1 but 2 large packets back. Each packet costs RM6 each but if you buy two, you get a RM1 discount and so you only pay RM11. And the lady even asked us if we wanted to have 2 different flavors- one plain and another with the black sesame.

Being friendly and giving offer easily win the heart of potential buyers. They may not buy today, but when they see you often enough, the image would get stuck in their subsconscious and they would buy one day,sure enough.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, freshness is a bonus- and most Chinese bakery snacks taste delicious when eaten fresh like sak keh mah, even if it does not come from a famous bakery, the freshness would make up for it.

When you are selling at the pasar malam or night market, you cannot sell your stuff too expensive- because then no one would buy from you as there are other stalls and food types to choose from. The standard price of a block of sak keh mah is between RM4 to RM5. But hers are larger so RM6 was alright. The overhead cost is also low as her stall is quite small and narrow- which I suspect she had shared with the bread and cake seller (non competitive business as both are selling the same category of food but not the same food type). It’s not easy to get a spot at the night market- so sharing it out can be a win-win situation.

The cost of making the sak keh mah is not high- and the ingredients are only flour, sugar, some sesame seed, plastic bags- some home have the huge type of build-in oven and that’s good enough to bake a large block of sak keh mah.  Cut a huge block into 10 packets and per batch can earn about RM50.  If cannot be finished, it can be sold to other hawkers selling bread and cookies. From what I see, her business has been good.

Now… the marketing part comes in 2 ways:

1. The taste, that speaks for itself. Honestly, I overate the sak keh mah. From what I can see, her business has been very good with people stopping to buy- and her business area is quite narrow yet people would patiently wait for their turns.

2. The seller seems to be constantly too busy cutting and packing the sak keh mah. Now of course you can prepack the sak keh mah but we consumers prefer to see it  in an entire tray and then being cut ‘live’ in front of us. Why? Coz the nature of sak keh mah is that it is crispy, sticky and sweet. And if it is not fresh, there is no way you can put out in the open air like that- because it would then be soggy and yucky.

So, the owners market the product via…. its plastic bag. See the plastic bag in the picture above? The design is simple- of a horse (because the ‘mah 马’ means horse). And the message below the plastic bag: “Welcome to call 016 537 9058).

To me, it’s a relatively low risk with low startup cost but could potentially yield good results. I’ve seen many aspiring entreprenuers starting out at night or day markets. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact, I admire those who want to try something on their own part time. Some people hold full time jobs and commitments. But they also have a dream- and they work hard instead of making excuses. While most people would laze around shopping complex, splurging on food, bags, gadgets, shoes, etc, there would be the few who are slogging away in their part time venture- till hopefully one day their part time venture earns enough for them to quit their full time job.

Another example is Homi Curry Puff– who started from a small staff and how have a branch in Mid Valley Mega Mall.

With patience, offering delicious product and affordable price, would encourage repeat buyers. Once the word had gotten around, then one can grow the business further. You may not even need to sell multiple products- just ONE and something that people would like can bring you lots of money. Even if you have no desire to grow the business, you can earn good money. But being a hawker is no walk in the park- they have to slog it out to prepare and cook/bake. One must be patient, resillient and hardworking- not giving up easily.

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