Taking the temperature of Yangon’s mom-and-pop stores

The streets of Yangon are slowly returning to normal, after weeks of semi-lockdowns, quarantines and closures. Though some restaurants saw an enormous increase in online sales during the restrictions, a large chunk of Myanmar’s population continued shopping as normal at their local shops – for food, beverages and essential supplies.

Known as mom-and-pop stores, these small businesses are an important part of Myanmar’s growing economy, supplying millions of ordinary consumers basic consumer goods – from sachets of shampoo and washing detergent, to rice, packet noodles and eggs.

Recent data collected by mom&pop, a Myanmar-based business intelligence company, showed that local mom-and-pop stores have suffered financially from COVID-19. Brett Joyal, mom&pop’s founder and CEO, told us more about the findings of their recent survey.

What is a mom and pop store?

Mom-and-pop is a term used all over the world to refer to shops that are private, family-owned businesses. They are important parts of the neighbourhood. Many of the owners live near the shop, either directly upstairs, behind or next door. The shops are often multi-generational, passed down from parent to child, and you will often find multiple family members working in the same shop. There is one shop not far from our office that’s been in the family for over 80 years.

It’s also worth noting that in Myanmar a significant number of these shops, possibly a majority, are owned and operated by women. It’s common to see mothers and daughters working together in these stores, and the next generation preparing to take over, which is another reason why we should consider them important to society. These shops create multi-generational opportunities for women to learn vital business skills and hold equity in an asset.

How important are these shops to Myanmar’s economy?

It’s easy to overlook the importance of mom-and-pop stores, but they are so numerous in Myanmar – wherever you go, it seems like they are just there – that their importance is actually quite profound. The exact numbers are hard to pin down, but estimates suggest that about 85 percent of consumer goods are sold through mom-and-pop shops in Myanmar.

This is true of bags, shoes, groceries, clothes, household goods, stationary, business services and even electronics. That’s a lot of small businesses, as well as income and equity for a family. Until the day when large companies like Makro, Tesco, and 7-Eleven are established in Myanmar, the mom-and-pop store is where most people will get their daily needs.

What is the COVID-19 shop impact survey?

Our survey was designed to help us understand how shops and their owners are being affected by COVID-19, and the government restrictions. It’s a small first step toward answering the larger question about how to move ahead in a post-COVID-19 world. It’s important that we understand the challenges these businesses face, so that the groups serving them – the government, aid agencies and suppliers – can get a better sense of what the owners are experiencing.

There have been incredible changes in our society since the first cases were announced in Myanmar – restrictions have been placed on businesses, schools have been closed, quarantines and curfews were imposed. Shortly thereafter we began to see some unfortunate economic consequences. When the first death was reported there was a major rush to buy staples in preparation for long quarantines at home. Shops saw a sudden spike in sales, leading to empty shelves at many. If there is an infectious disease outbreak, people will worry about water and cooking oil, rice and noodles. How should these shops operate during a pandemic, and what happens if they close? Also, what happens to the suppliers?

If these shops close, thousands of other small businesses and jobs will be affected. Mom&pop developed the survey to shed light on how the restrictions are affecting the shops, and the impact on the owners’ actions and attitudes.

What were the major findings in the survey?

A key insight into shop owner attitudes is reflected in the response rate to the survey itself. Mom&pop called 475 shop owners in our network, and all of them participated in the survey, which is pretty unusual. It suggests that they are deeply concerned about COVID-19, and the impact on their family businesses. Over 80pc of the owners reported that the pandemic had impacted their operations.

The survey was conducted between 4 to 8 April, when about one-third of the shops had closed. This was both in response to COVID-19, as well as to the approaching Thingyan holiday. Of the stores that did not close, the changes were pretty dramatic. Half of them reduced traffic into the shop, which suggests they worried about contracting the virus from customers.

Disappointing for some suppliers was the finding that about a third of the owners reported buying less stock. That will cause a decline in sales for an indefinite time, which will affect many manufacturers, brands and distributors. Unsurprisingly, nearly 75pc of these shops reported an increase in sales due to panic buying after the first virus-related death was announced. However, many stores reported a drop in sales afterwards.

Some shops also reported reducing staff. At the time of the survey this was just 13pc, but it did not clarify whether these were temporary or permanent layoffs. A drop in employment is not good for any sector of the economy, and we need to watch this trend carefully.

The uplifting insight from the survey is the resilience of the owners and the desire to keep moving forward. When asked what helped the shop owners needed to get through this period, nearly fifty-percent said they wanted to ‘quickly get back to normal.’

What products were most in demand during the crisis?

Food and beverage products were the most frequently cited as top sellers. For example, noodles were listed as both the top-seller and the one most frequently out of stock. Snacks, biscuits, and coffee were also top sellers.

We were surprised that face masks and hand sanitisers were not listed more prominently. This is probably because most shops did not carry these products. I would imagine that soon we’ll see more shops stocking these items.

Personal care products will likely experience difficulty in the near term. While households will continue buying soaps and disinfectant, personal care products will be less in demand while everyone is quarantined at home or trying save money. They will bounce back, of course, but it’s all about timing.

Speaking of timing, mom&pop completed the follow-up survey to this one last week. We will be publishing those results soon, and studying them for emerging trends among Myanmar’s neighbourhood shops.

To see the original article click link here

Source : Myanmar Times

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