by Vidyaratha Kissoon
It was 930pm and the taxi man grumbled.. “Dis nah nutting like GuyExpo, yuh tink yuh could ah walk hey when was GuyExpo wid all dem people. Nobody aint coming”
There were no crowds, no loud music. No traffic jam. Last time I had bothered with GuyExpo was in 2012 when there were lots of crowds and so on. It had moved from Guyana on show to “14 Chinese companies” at one of the more recent ones.
According to one of the exhibitors who had also stopped going to GuyExpo “Banks used to mek de money out deh”. A successful GuyExpo was “30,000 persons every night”.
A friend had posted an appeal on Facebook. Come and buy local. A few other people posted things like ‘go and get your authentic casareep”
The ticket booth had no line early in the afternoon. $500 for adults still (since 2009 at least) , $300 for children. An exhibitor said “ow man, dey could ah leh de chirren come in free, tings bad now.. we know it wasn’t supposed to be a party, but ow man, people come fuh sell ting tuh ”
The Welcome stage had the Buxton /GBTI Steel Orchestra. There were other musicians. Something about giving visibility to local talent. A music producer who had a booth said that in previous years she attended GuyExpo when her company had performers, but never with a booth. She had a CD with local music to share out.
The vendor of very nice mauby had a hand written sign up on the wall of the booth. She said that the organisers had advised her to get a trade name.. ‘but I try to explain that everybody know me as Teacher Roxanne from St George’s”.
Branding for many small businesses in Guyana is often based around the name of the owner , but maybe the futuristic experts have other ideas of how these things are done.
I am not a business person but now I am thinking about tiefing the name ‘Teacher Roxanne Mauby’ and make my own and try to sell somewhere else.
I saw a table with two chairs. The owner laughed when I told her it looked like it was for a lil hand reading or so. She is an event planner. We talked about the event. She agreed that it was frustrating seeing the potential and the lapses, especially around the media. She said that next time they should hire an event planner to plan the event. She said that for service providers like her, it was good to talk to people and make connections. She exchanged business cards with a caterer while we were talking. She was feeling bad for the retailers who had looked forward to making some money.
A young woman came up and gave me her beautifully laid out business card. She did not have a booth. I realised that if I was entrepreneurial, I would have put on nice clothes, shaved and also come with some business cards.. be a walking booth.
The media around the new Small Business Expo seemed to be about news reports that it was going to happen. The website had a registration form and not much else. The State/people-owned Chronicle had two stories on Sunday about mall, and one about the Expo . There have been other stories about the mall since the Expo closed. Newsnow is doing a series of profiles from the Expo.
Given the newness, or the change in the whole idea of supporting local businesses especially with Made in Guyana branding, it would have been good to have a newspaper supplement, with some idea of the people who were going to be there and the products. Or at least the website could have been used to create a listing.
There was coconut oil, lots of coconut oil. I asked one of the vendors what is the difference between her coconut oil and the others. She explained about the manufacturing process. I was not convinced – I guess all coconut oil is the same to me. Her business has Surinamese connections and is based in Essequibo. They have a fish farm with tambaqui for a Brazillian market! Tambaqui is not so popular in Suriname or Guyana . The company is doing aquaponic production. They are also working on dried sorrel.
There was pepper sauce, with different flavours – the carailla one had sold out according to its creator. There were some new products like the Pepperpot Mix with all the spices, and the Acai berry juice.
Another new product is the rice cereal from the Institute of Applied Science and Technology which was launched in 2014. IAST had rice flour noodles. Another booth had rice flour and rice oil. This Made-in-Guyana-value-added-to-rice is some kind of dream threading Burnham , Jagan, Jagdeo and now Granger.
I had the healthy snack bar. I wondered whether it was not rice cake with some other nutritious stuff added and what was the big deal. IAST might have had other projects which could benefit small businesses.
A man asked me if I wanted a clean out – not janitorial services – but bitters. I asked the smart young woman at the Image makeover booth how I could become as beautiful as her. Without stopping the smile , she looked at me and said ‘take off the glasses, then some of the beard, not all of it.. and then do a justin bieber thing with the hair.. you know who Justin Bieber is right?”
I saw another man who had recently returned to Guyana. He told me he had a booth with body guard services. I had passed the booth previously, to go to a booth with more vibrant colours. Maybe the discretion of the booth is a sign of the quality of the service. The bodyguard service is targeted for among others, persons visiting Guyana to do business.
One stall had books. By 2020, we expect that there will be book publishers at the expo. I heard a man ask if books were on sale at one of the Festival of Literature events . He seemed surprised when he was told no.
Some of the exhibitors were keen on upcycling . Chrsitina Forrester turned her hobby into Everything makes Craft. She has been using different materials – toilet paper rolls to make a mirror frame, plastic cups to make a snow man. I am not crafty , I wondered about dust and the mirror frame with all the crevices .. but the creative can probably create a new frame from other waste.
Everything makes Craft does workshops and classes as well.
The banner on the booth with the masks and dressed mannequins had a sign which said something about Make up Artistry, Upholstery and Re-furbishing. Talk about wide diversification – something that a few small business owners and persons like me have had to do.
I could not imagine any of the furniture people I know also doing make up or creating costumes. Maxi Williams is passionate about his design work and about Guyana. He is also keen on upcycling – DVD cases to create the decorations, CDs and DVDs and paper plates to cut for the masks. He believes in refurbishing furniture. He rescued two carved wooden chairs from a rubbish dump in Suriname. He had asked a tibisiri weaver in the booth next to him complete the seats. His story of learning and being interested in the work sounded a lot more interesting than some of the other coaching and business pep talking which I have witnessed.
The design thing was on my mind – something about how we seem not to be able to do new things and well, like the coconut oil, everything seems almost the same. Well maybe except for the different blends of pepper sauce. I told a furniture seller about checking the possibilities of adapting new open designs but I am not a business person .
Some of the people said they thought they would have met the Minister, and some of the other Government officials. People were pleasantly surprised to see former Prime Minister Sam Hinds. One disgruntled AFC supporter said if Jagdeo had come, he might have gotten some votes. Other persons said that no, the Minister was walking around, they “don’t know what people talking about.”
Another person suggested that they needed a big name star to endorse the Small Business Expo next time, to draw people.
One of men in the Small Business Bureau booth said that he felt this was the first time he was at a real trade show, but no doubt the concept will have to be sorted out.
One of the vendors thought that it would be good to have a Christmas market somewhere – using one of the new open spaces in Georgetown since many of the small retailers did not do as they expected.
A PPP man I know who had to work in a booth muttered that .”you could walk around dis ting in half hour.” I had spent about four and a half hours and spent about $1000 on mauby, fudge and toasted pumpkin seeds.
The bright blue and red lit bus shed was beautiful in the night. I saw it as I was leaving and thought there was a shuttle or something. The man sitting said that they were selling advertising for the bus sheds. Social media has shown a lot of excitement about the bus sheds – more excitement than coconut oil or rice cereal or acai or upcycling or supporting and developing small businesses .