Succeeding in the Bazaar Business

December 1st, 2017

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To kick of the holiday season, Go Negosyo Radio hosts Sen. Bam Aquino & DJ Cheska Diego-Bobadilla were joined by two of the bazaar industry greats: Vanessa Ledesma of Mercato Centrale and Sandy Allan of Bazaar Pilipinas.

Every Filipino knows that once the holiday tunes start rolling playing everywhere, the inevitable pop-ups of holiday markets and bazaars will begin sprouting everywhere. There’s truly no other country that loves Christmas as much as the Filipino.

In fact, the bazaar and bargaining culture in the Philippines is deeply ingrained in our social DNA. Since time immemorial, Filipinos have largely socialized in a palengke or market setting. This is why the bargaining game or tawad is already taken into account by many negosyantes when selling items.

Another distinctly Filipino characteristic is our love of food. Food is everywhere and our days and social lives also revolve around food and meals. That’s why Mercato Centrale’s formula of upscaling the bazaar concept married with the best food finds was a surefire hit.

Mercato Centrale started in 2010 as a morning market at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig and eventually grew into a night food market. Vanessa shared that the first inspiration was from the markets in Florence, Italy. Her and her husband, RJ Ledesma, ventured to replicate a similar setting and incubated a lot of stand alone food vendors. Mercato Centrale success stories include Manang’s Chicken, Sunrise Buckets, Tokyo Tempura, Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza, Mochiko and more. Today, the have expanded to over 10 markets in different regions around the country.

Vanessa shared that they were pleasantly surprised that Filipinos completely embraced the food market from the very start. “People arrived right away! When we first launched the morning market there were so many people already at 7am!”

She shares that Meracato has been very happy and fulfilling type of business—even more so during the Christmas season. “Vendors are very excited to try out their new ventures. It’s really a season for more adventure and people are really festive.”

As Mercato grew, it became more than just a place for people to be find delectable treats and for passionate small food vendors to have a venue to sell their goods—it also became the launchpad for many entrepreneurial success stories. Vanessa shared that they’ve taken on the task of incubating and mentoring these vendors. In fact, every Tuesday. the team opens up their doors to current and aspiring food vendors for TasteTest Tuesdays where people can test out their creations and get valuable feedback.

“We’re looking for the next Jollibee and Mang Inasal. We’re an incubator,” Vanessa shared, “We’ve partnered with go negosyo to address the pinpoints of these vendors. We want them to find their scalability.”

Something Vanessa has also tried to push vendors to realize is that in this day and age, presentation (or how instagrammable) you booth and food are count for a lot. Beyond the look, people also become attracted to certain booths because of the story.

Moving on from food and into the bazaar industry in general, there was no better guest to give us the rundown on the business than bazaar guru Sandy Allen of Bazaar Pilipinas. Sandy is the founder of the Facebook Group that serves as a source of information, tips, guidelines, questions, and many precautions. Starting in out in 2010, the group has grown from 40 to 60 people in a singularly eclectic community, to a group of 32,000+ members today. The group is composed of merchants, organizers, and even shoppers.

Unlike the food market established by Vanessa, where bargaining is not a thing, Sandy gave a lot of tips for both merchants and shopper with regards to this custom in many bazaars. “Filipinos are very thrifty. Even if you’re a regular, you will still bargain. In other countries this would be offensive,” Sandy said. She advised that entrepreneurs must account for these predictable custom so that they won’t be at a loss at the end of the day.”

Beyond this, she advises that vendors, if they’re really serious about making it in the bazaar business, to join more than one bazaar and to be hands on if its a new business. In terms of what will be a hit with the market, she says that “It’s really more of what you’ll stick by. Look at your passion, what is available, and what are your expertise.”

She also advised many to avoid the old hard sell habit of Filipinos called “barking” and to avoid using hugot as a selling point. Today, Filipinos are more likely to approach a booth with sales lady who is simply smiling but is not too aggressive.

For shoppers, she advised them to dress comfortably and to bring their own shopping bags. In terms of bazaar etiquette, she encourages people to not cut in lines or interrupt other shoppers when they’re being attended to by the sales people.

Her biggest message however, was to venue partners who overcharge bazaar organizers. “There is no standardization for bazaar organization so sometimes venues will really give the highest fee for rent. On average they charge over Php300,000 and even higher during Christmas, And the small scale entrepreneurs get edged out because they can’t afford rent. Only high margin businesses can profit. So, because these small scale entrepreneurs are disappearing, the edge (and the spirit) of these bazaars are also disappearing. I hope all this can change.”

Both ladies also warned vendors about a modus operandi where people fake being bazaar organizers or Mercato Centrale. They will ask vendors for a low upfront rent fee and will even have pictures ready as “proof” of the bazaar. To sign up for Mercato and to get the real inside on bazaars, follow their official facebook pages and groups only.