The recent takeover of Digitel-Sun by Pangilinan-led PLDT has renewed calls (such as this one by Solita ‘Winnie’ Monsod) for a comprehensive antitrust law for the Philippines. The following serves as a cautionary tale.
Mang Nicodemus, 30 years of age, loved to get up at dawn and smell the fresh morning air before all the cars were out on the road. What’s more, he loved the aroma of newly boiled fresh soy bean curd. It was perfect for him to sell taho in the early morning. Almost.
He had begun his trade less than a year ago. A high school graduate, he had once labored in his family’s small farm land in the North, deriving a small but regular income. After some time, when he was about 25, he decided to go to the metro in search of success. At first, it was frighteningly foreign to him, and he actually thought of heading back home, in shame, to his family. Soon enough, however, he got used to the city life, and decided to stay. Besides, he thought, he had not met the girl of his dreams yet.
He did the odd job here and there, but it was not until he met Mang Humphrey that he knew what he wanted to do. Mang Humphrey sold taho. But not just any taho. The syrup was mixed with langka and crushed nata de coco, making for a unique delicacy never done before. Nicodemus admired Humphrey’s innovativeness, and after finding out the taho-making process, set out to the streets. However, Humphrey had to warn Nicodemus.
Most taho vendors were part of a taho vendor union, which, although providing more stability to the vendors, prevented them from doing their own thing or bucking the order of the day as decreed by the union leader, a certain Mang Latoya, who incidentally was furious with Humphrey’s changes to the taho syrup ingredients.
“If you’re going to succeed in this business, Nicodemus, you will have to be prepared to do battle, and stand up for what you believe in. Don’t take droppings from anybody,” Humphrey said.
“I will give it my best. Thank you, Mang Humphrey. You’ve really helped me get started.”
“If I wanted to help you, I would have sent you to the union long ago. That would have been the easy way. But I sense potential in you. If you’re prepared to do so, go out there, and knock them dead!”
At first, it was difficult. Not only did Mang Nicodemus have a hard time giving the proper change (especially when a P100 or P500 bill was used), but his neck and upper back ached from carrying his two pails all day long.
To make things worse, the union taho vendors were constantly infiltrating his spots, as though deliberately trying to discourage him from continuing his business. This is why, apart from the fresh morning air, Nicodemus liked being out early.
“What are you doing here? They don’t need you here, they’re buying from me!” he would be told. And he would either have to make do with smaller earnings by selling in the same block as another vendor, or go find another place, which would later be overrun by yet another union vendor.
He knew that Mang Humphrey was doing well with his syrup concoction, but Nicodemus didn’t want to simply imitate that idea. He wanted to do something of his own, to make him stand out, to perhaps even make the annoying competition irrelevant.
At night, he pondered over his situation. What could I do? he asked himself.
One morning, after many months of low earnings and brushes with the union vendors, all of which made him consider quitting his otherwise much-beloved trade, he had an idea. It was so simple, he didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to him.
He remembered passing by a store one day, and thinking, hey, they sell soy, and P3 a kilogram cheaper. After his morning rounds, which though difficult, failed to pull down his spirit, he visited the owner of the store. He inquired as to how they managed to sell at such a low price, and found out that the owner manufactured the soy in his back yard through a technique that eliminated middlemen and allowed for a larger return.
“If I buy from you at P1 more per kilo, will you consider setting aside or producing an additional amount, enough for my taho?” Nicodemus said.
“That sounds fair. You’ve got a deal!”
Soon enough, Nicodemus was selling at P1 less per cup, then P2 less per cup, than his competitors, and sold his taho twice as fast, while still earning more than he used to. Union vendors looked on bitterly at the newfound success of he whom they had considered their whipping boy.
Instead of congratulating himself, Nicodemus’ mind raced as to how to further provide cheaper and better taho for his growing number of customers.
He tinkered with the syrup, finding the best-tasting formula. If it were a little more expensive, he’d shoulder the loss, if it meant gaining more customers. He finally came up with his secret ingredient: Choc-Nut. Within two weeks, he had to hire an assistant to produce and sell his taho, and he was already considering setting up shop up the hill. He had already come up with a shop name: Make Taho!.
Three months after his first initiative to lower prices, Nicodemus was reveling in the always-busy Make Taho!, open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., up the hill. His taho was 70% cheaper than union taho, and came in three different varieties: regular, peanut and chocolate (ube and strawberry were coming soon). He had two assistants making the rounds, delivering taho within the city. Sometimes he did the deliveries himself; he liked being out in the field.
What had initially set his dreams back were the processes required by the food and drug agency, Securities and Exchange Commission, internal revenue agency, Trade department and so on. It was like they were accusing him of wrongdoing, assuming the worst of him, and taking his money while at it, even before he opened Make Taho!. However, he got through it all, keeping in mind the end-result: satisfaction of his customers. And they came a-knocking. Soon after, he extended his shop hours to 10 p.m.
Needless to say, the union vendors were not happy one bit. Those in the next three or four barangays were especially hit, each losing approximately half their earnings. Instead of looking for ways to bring back customers, or perhaps, to offer their services somehow to Nicodemus, they thought of ways to make use of the union’s pull, to drive out that greedy scheming vendor-turned-‘businessman’ who was depriving their families of food, medicine, education, etc.
Mang Latoya had his experience with politics before, and knew what to do. He set appointments with Senator C___, who was once congressman of their district, and their incumbent congressman, Congressman Z___. In those meetings, Latoya had asked six union members to accompany him, each with head bowed as though fate had knocked its final blow. Each of them had their stories to tell, which were mostly true: one had a sick child who needed medicine; another was expecting his fourth child; yet another was struggling to pay his debts.
Senator C___ said to them, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of this.”
Congressman Z___ said to them, “This is unconscionable. I’ll make some calls.”
Will our hero Mang Nicodemus be able to weather the perils of government intervention?
Will the people stand by him in his darkest hour?
Will he finally meet the girl of his dreams?
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2, the exciting conclusion of
... ‘THE INNOVATIVE TAHO VENDOR’!
END OF PART 1