Diana Mahabir-Wyatt

HAVE you noticed the evolution in commerce lately?

In many cultures, time is not regarded as something successive, but as a circular phenomenon. Although the conventional European concept of history is sequential—that time is linear, just one thing after another until you die—subconsciously we know it is not. It is circular. “What goes round, comes round,” the old people used to say from wry experience.

And philosophers spoke of events in human history as “turning and turning in a widening gyre” what happens once, happens again, and again, with different people, different faces, in different places perhaps, but “history” repeats itself.

Political concepts, social norms, even religious precepts seem to reinvent themselves every 500 or 600 years in order to remain relevant to the changes in human development, environment, tide and global consciousness. It is as though the whole of life and energy is inching itself backwards and forwards, heading towards a way of being or existence that has not yet been quite worked out. So systems “loop”. It is called the Axial principle.

Sometimes we learn from them. Sometimes we don’t.

Despite the cheerfulness in the recent budget statements, based on data gathered five years ago, there has been a radical shift in employment figures. There is a curious cocktail being created, shaken, not stirred. The key ingredient is people, who are often highly skilled and experienced, and who have sometimes experienced retrenchment. To that you add the unconscionable laxness in limiting the importation of ever-cheaper foreign-used vehicles and the pre-election granting of contracts to repair WASA-mutilated and pot-hole-filled roads, resulting in time-wasting traffic jams. This is producing in a renewed phenomenon.

People are starting up mom ‘n’ pop shops, eating places, service providers and places of relaxation that are focused on customers within communities, not within the country as a whole. If you need a plumber desperately on a Friday before a public holiday, instead of going to a large plumbing company that works nationwide and closes for business at 4 p.m., people are finding a community mom ‘n’ pop plumber within driving distance. Did your air-conditioner break down? Do you need someone to help to cater for a Divali or a birthday lime? Will your car not start?

Are you going to wait until a service person creeps through rush-hour traffic to get to you?

The growth of mom ‘n’ pop businesses is taking over.

Of course it is not new. What goes round comes round. Most big businesses in Trinidad and Tobago, an estimated 80 per cent of them, started as family-owned organisations: Coosals, Sammy, Neal and Massy, ANSA McAL, Huggins, Gordon Grant, SM Jaleel, LJ Williams, Joseph Charles, Aboud’s, RIK—they all started as family “shops”, some of them without an actual “shop” at first. They transported goods and services to you. Where would doubles be without them?

This year, when they start small, many of them are owned by people over 50, often with a bright young son or daughter running the IT systems that propel them forward. They steadily pick up clients from larger businesses that are more centralised, have employees on rigid schedules and can’t adapt to traffic problems fast enough.

The larger businesses likely also have staff that don’t know or call their customers by name, and you cannot easily get to them.

Where would you rather shop? Within an area you are familiar with? Where the people who serve you know you by name and are trained to remember you? Where the owners restock frequently because they can only keep a limited inventory in their homes?

What services are mom ‘n’ pops offering? Child care close to home? Ready-made meals that you can order and pick up on the way home? Delivery of food, equipment repair and services for people who are temporarily or permanently ill or disabled?

An hour a day cleaning and laundry service for the elderly and arthritic and for single parents who have to work eight hours a day plus face traffic and who want some time at the end of the day to be with their kids?

Trendy cafés for teens who want to lime with people their own age and still be safely close enough to home? Urgently needed beauty parlours in your area where you are known and they have your preferred colour of nail polish and they can style your kind of hair?

The mom ‘n’ pops are starting every day, some by people who have retired, some by people who have been retrenched, some by people just fed-up with traffic. Those are growing in numbers and shifting the face of the economy.

In the consultancy I work for, one of our functions is recruitment services. Over the past six months, executive and professional positions we are recruiting for have been turned down by qualified people when they find out where the jobs are located and how long it will take to get there.

Some prefer to begin work at 5.30 a.m. for service organisations that provide services before the traffic gets overwhelming. This can either be called “flexible working hours” or “clever entrepreneurship”. Either way, it works both for the contracting companies that look for such people and for the people themselves. It leaves afternoons free, as well.

People who are Trini to the bone always find a way!

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In many cultures, time is not regarded as something successive, but as a circular phenomenon. Although the conventional European concept of history is sequential—that time is linear, just one thing after another until you die—subconsciously we know it is not. It is circular. “What goes round, comes round,” the old people used to say from wry experience.

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