Most Kopas – both male and female – who served in rural areas are completely rugged and active as during the service year they were always on the run looking for ways to make ends meet. Whether teaching extra hours in schools or at people’s houses, working at computer centres, or selling various items in a bid to survive the hardship in the country, their entrepreneurial spirit is strong. This was the case with Kopa Deola and me: as corps members in the Baruten LGA of Kwara State, we were highly recognised in the community for the commodities we sold.
Kopa Deola and I were just friends, although we were often mistaken for sisters. We did virtually everything together; we talked about everything and anything – we were like Pumbaa and Timon in The Lion King – we stood by one another. But beyond our friendship, we were both marketers and every evening except for Sundays, we carried our wares to the heart of the township and often sold out. We would usually first hold a brief meeting at Kenny’s Shop (a large phone accessory shop), then afterwards went about our business. Kopa Deola sold male and female underwear while I sold jewellery. She was more zealous than I was – well, you could not expect less from a marketing graduate of Kwara State Polytechnic – and knew just how to handle customers and collect her money from them better than I did. But trust me, I knew how to sweet talk my customers into buying my wares – well, you could not expect less from a mass communications graduate of the University of Lagos. Frankly speaking, the way people negotiate the prices of goods to the barest minimum like they were not initially purchased with money is ridiculous. Nigerians’ bargaining skills are so astounding that they can reduce the price of an item worth N2,000 to N500 – and still tell you that it’s too expensive! Worse still, they will collect the goods without payment, take them home, and in a week’s time return and say that “my wife prefers another colour,” “it’s too big, can I get a smaller size,” or, “you gave me medium but I want to exchange it for a large.” And you respond, “WHAT THE…!” The best customer service technique at that point is to simply shake your head and be sympathetic because there is absolutely nothing you can do about it ;) But this is a lesson to learn: never give your goods out without first collecting your money. I learned this the hard way when the ultimate "Negotiator" refused to pay me my money two weeks to my passing out. Madam Cash, a resident of Baruten, had bought some jewellery from me and some underwear from Deola and promised to pay on a future date. When the date came, she kept avoiding us. We visited her house several times but she was never around. She asked us to give her our account numbers so that she could pay us the money – which we did – but alas! no credit alert. As POP (our passing-out parade) drew closer, Deola and I were upset with her. And sadly, this was not the type of case one could report to the police. Madam Cash didn’t seem like the type of person who would disappoint: she was a successful business woman in the town and a mother figure to us, and we trusted her, which is why we sold on credit to her in the first place. Madam Cash had the habit of wanting to buy goods at cost price or even less using flinch tactics. She had in-depth knowledge of the art of bargaining, the kind you can never gain from reading books. I had already lost hope when Deola rushed into the corpers’ lodge one day to inform me that she had seen Madam Cash a few minutes earlier. We both rushed down to her house. As soon as she saw us, she tightened her face because she knew what we had come for. She began shouting at the top of her voice: “How much is the money sef, that you keep harassing me?” Grudgingly, she brought out some money from her purse and gave it to us, but the amount was short of N200. Deola immediately brought it to her notice, but she aggressively said that either we leave it or take it. Deola wanted to pick a fight, but I pulled her away and we left her house. Business is not an easy venture as it involves a lot of risk and skilful management of customers. As negotiating is part of Nigeria’s culture, businesspeople are meant to gain mastery in this skill so as not to run at a loss. So Kopas, remember that you can only be a great entrepreneur – along the lines of Dangote – if you know how to deal with the “Negotiator”.