Shank Space

The Odd Vendor

Jan 28, 2022

Street vendors sell things for a living right? As a business? They need to make money off of whatever they are selling, account for losses, have a somewhat solid business plan - they may not have the fancy spreadsheets but they will have the top line and bottom line and, you know, basic stuff. 

For instance, say you are selling vegetables. You know how much you are buying them for in wholesale, what their shelf life is, and how much to sell them for. You adjust your price based on demand, shelf life and profit expectations. So you tend to buy vegetables that are closer together, in a way. Fewer variables to keep track of, right? So you may specialise in green leafy vegetables or you may carry just a few of the mass movers like onions, tomatoes and potatoes. Like there is some common factor between all the items you sell, some clustering. Right?

Here comes a vendor selling the oddest combination of things. For the life of me I can’t figure out what’s the common factor. To be fair I could just ask him. Or just see him. I have only heard his announcements on the loudspeaker as he passes by. Right now I’m just stewing in the sheer absurdity of it. Maybe it’s got a simple explanation that will just throw light on my wrong presuppositions, maybe I haven’t been exposed to the broader world of street vendors and it’s a common thing. But for now, I have an odd street vendor who occupies my mind for five to ten minutes on the days he passes by, and I’m putting it down in writing. 

I will walk you through the items he sells. Now remember, there are always vendors who sell one or two of these as specialised vendors. A vendor selling honey combs and honey, not weird. A vendor selling Jack fruits, not weird. Single item clusters, understandable. This guy, our odd vendor, sells mushrooms and sweet corn. There’s two more items on the cart but it’s already weird! 

Mushrooms are a delicacy. Once in a month, special occasion dish kind of delicacy. And sweet corn is snack food. You roast it, you steam it, have it as an evening snack. You start eating it right off the hands of the vendor, it is street food. Two different classes of food. But maybe they are sourced similarly? No. Sweet corn is a grain. Like rice and wheat it’s grown in acres of farm land. Harvested. Mushrooms are grown on significantly smaller areas. Hand picked (I think? I haven’t been following the advances in fungi horticulture of late). So what’s the common thread?

Let me add in the final two items on his cart. Baby corn and Paneer. Paneer! That’s cottage cheese. That’s dairy! What class of food are these? Why are they together? So he definitely is going to need a refrigerated setup right? The others don’t need refrigeration, they will stay fresh longer with refrigeration sure, but they don’t need it. I have seen baby corn being sold loose in the supermarket. 

They are what I would call luxury food items. Most of them. So they don’t have the same demand as the mass movers. And at least one of them (Paneer) needs a fridge of some sort. That’s an added cost with the fuel, either as electricity or as ice boxes. Come to think of it, is it just frozen food this guy is hawking on streets? I have seen most is them in the frozen food section…

But why? Frozen food is a very hard business to get in. Margins are low and risks are high. That is before you add movement to them. What is the target audience? They are not essential enough to buy off the streets when they are running low. They require a certain amount of planning for making the dishes, and the plan time can easily include sourcing the ingredients. The chances of guests dropping in today or me craving for a mushroom delicacy and street vendor passing by to fulfil my needs are mighty low. What’s the business here?

My sister thinks he might be pulling off a pretty neat scheme. The idea is he is a wholesale transport guy who is carrying some extra stock on the way to his deliveries. Selling them at near whole sale price. Taking a residential route because the business offsets the detour cost and then some. It is a possibility, the only arguments I have against this are one, he comes around at ten in the morning, and I think most of the wholesale consumers accept deliveries early in the morning or late at night (that’s what media will have me believe). Two, it is still a weird combination of items to source from one place. It’s possible he may be a pioneer and has found a niche market that works. It’s possible I’m seeing the birth of a disruption. 

So there you have it. The odd vendor. Next time he comes around I’m going to look out the window and see how he is selling this. And possibly, maybe, talk to him about his inspirations. Maybe. Let’s see. 

PS: I haven’t seen the vendor yet but there is a new item on his cart: French Fries! I’m almost certain it’s a frozen food play here. There is still some nagging feeling about the demand for it as a street vendor and the economies but it kinda makes sense. 

Until later, congratulations on the free real estate in my mind, odd vendor.