Friday, March 30, 2007

Pay Day

When I started this business I received a lot of warnings about dealing with locals from the locals that I already knew. Porteños will rob you as sure as rain and you can’t trust any of them where the main messages.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out just the opposite in most cases. Business people are business people and it’s just not good business going around cheating people. If you cheat people word will get out and you will not be able to grow and prosper. In fact, I had heard some disturbing things about one of my current clients before they became my clients.

I did not approach Al Queso, queso right away because I had heard some rumors about them. This client is a cheese, cold cuts and wine shop. They also have some imported beers and other gourmand delicacies. On hindsight I should have investigated a bit further. I had heard that they had a reputation for not paying well and stringing you along once you were their provider. There was some truth to this but it was only for certain shops under the control of one individual. This individual is no longer around. Most of the shops are owned by the original owner. This is a family business and it is growing.

When I approached them, the owner was the one that would make the decisions and he is a very busy man. He has almost 20 stores under his belt and they are not linked by any computer system. He is still doing it the old fashioned way.

Anyway, he tries the products out, he negotiates the deals, and sometimes he is there at payday but usually it’s only his employees. Payday is once a week. You show up, sign in and wait. It’s first come first served. Sometimes you would be there 15 minutes. These days you are lucky if you only get to wait two hours. I took advantage of this time to meet the other providers. Some of them were business owners just like me, others were sales people sent out to collect payment. All of them had one thing in common; they did not like waiting around to get paid.

But this happens every week, rain or shine

These days I have someone else go and get paid for me. I do not miss standing around for 2 + hours waiting. I do miss listening to the gossip, jokes, and stories about that other guy who would not pay.

I have clients who are a bit more modern, bigger, centralized office with full time accountants and guess what; sometimes they don’t pay on time. I guess, if I ever go back to waiting at Queso, queso I can pitch in with a couple of stories of my own now.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Raising Bilingual Children

One of the nicest surprises, in rearing our children in Argentina, has been the ease in which my wife and I have been able to rear them in a bilingual environment. Obviously, the number one reason behind this success is that both of us where on the same page on this one.

What has also helped is that my in-laws have also been supportive. In fact, they probably would have looked badly on us if we did not do it this way. This is slightly different experience from Miss Cupcake (fellow expat Blogger in BsAs), where her in-laws did not seem comfortable with the idea of a bi-lingual, multicultural upbringing.

Our first daughter is completely bilingual. You would be hard pressed to hear an accent in either language she speaks. She also started speaking early in age at about 10 months old. Our second daughter started speaking later and she is tending to favor Spanish (Castellano is what they call it in Argentina). We are not concerned though. We just have to make sure that we always talk to her in English. In fact, we not only talk to her in English, but the majority of the books that they have are in English and when we go to the movies together it is always non-dubbed, original language features and whenever they watch TV it is in English.

We did hear from some people telling us that they thought our children would get confused being exposed to two languages and therefore would start learning to speak at a later age. Our experience with our first daughter really tossed that argument out the window. In all fairness, our first daughter had more exposure to us because we were not that busy with our business. Our second daughter does not have the same amount of hours with us speaking English in comparison. I always felt in my gut that somehow that theory about confusing babies with two languages or more was just wrong.

I just read an article on a study that was done on bilingual children. They wanted to know if their brains were different from monolingual children. What they found was that their brains process information in exactly the same way as monolinguals do but they take advantage of more of that part of the brain´s capability.

"The present findings are significant because they show that the brains of bilinguals and monolinguals are similar, and both process their individual languages in fundamentally similar ways. The one fascinating exception is that bilinguals appear to engage more of the neural landscape available for language processing than monolinguals, which is a very good thing."

What this means is that your brain is actually enhanced by being exposed to two languages or more. I no longer have to rely on just my gut instinct! Apart from studies there are also on line resources for those considering raising bilingual children:

Multilingual Children’s Association
Raising Bilingual Children: The First Five Steps to Success
Bilingual Parenting in a Foreign Language
Linguistic Society of America

Last but not least, for those of you in Argentina. There is an American woman who is a wonderful educator. In fact, she worked at the Lincoln School in BA and now she has started a workshop in English for kids between the ages of 4 and 9. This is an English Literature Workshop for Children and I cannot praise Beth enough. My daughter just loves going to her workshop. She organizes the workshop around a celebrated book that she reads to them and then they enjoy activities related to the book they just read.

If you have bilingual children you just have to try Beth’s workshop. You can write to her at

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Biscotti or Cantucci, what´s the difference?

I get this question a lot, especially since I offer both, or do I?

The etymology of the word biscotti is the following: Italian, from the Medieval Latin bis coctus, meaning twice cooked. The most famous of these twice baked cookies are the ones that were invented in the Tuscan city of Prato during the 13th century and were called Cantucci or Cantuccini.

So why does Sugar & Spice offer a Biscotti and separately a Cantucci?

When I came to Argentina in 1999 I could not find biscotti anywhere. I was very surprised given the fact that there are so many Italians here. Did the Italians that came to Argentina forget the recipe back home? I started asking around, after I started making them, and found that many people remember their grandmothers making those cookies at home. It seems we are one of the very few who started offering these cookies commercially in Argentina.

I prefer the traditional crispy cookie that the Italians like to dip into Vin Santo. However, I do know that there are many people who would prefer to have a not so dry cookie. I decided then to differentiate between these two styles by calling the more traditional recipe Biscotti and the newer, softer version Cantucci.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Once in a while I loose a sale. Grant it, I don’t usually loose them but when it does happen I can’t help but get depressed about it before I shake it off and move on. When it does happen, and I am able to see the positive side to the loss, then it’s that much easier.

A while back I met with a company called Grupo Multifood. They have several restaurant/café’s that are located in various shopping malls like Paseo Alcorta and Patio Bullrich for example. At that moment we did not have a lot of business with bulk cookies for the coffee set. We had to develop a cantucci that was economical, that would not break but wouldn’t break people’s teeth as well, and that had to be delicious. I had several meetings with them and I delivered lots of samples.

They currently had someone making cantucci for them so I was really trying to get them to change suppliers. This time it did not work. After all the samples were sent and all the meetings that I went to, I came up empty handed.

So what is the silver lining to this story? I was now ready to approach The Coffee Store. Now I had a product already developed and ready to go. This was such a natural fit for The Coffee Store. They were also a much bigger client in terms of number of stores. They also had the same supplier as Grupo Multifood. Luckily for me, The Coffee Store happened to like my product more than the one they were currently handling. Normally it´s just not one reason why someone decides to change suppliers. This time around it was just a better fit for them for various reasons. They also happened to like that with one supplier they can have multiple products like Cookies, Cantucci, Biscotti, and some other new products that I can’t quite mention yet.

In the end, I am not sure why I failed to persuade Grupo Multifood from switching over. But I am sure glad they made me run around and develop a new product that was perfect for the market-at least I think it is and The Coffee Store thinks so as well. All that work I had put into the lost opportunity really made things so much easier for the second opportunity that came my way. Anyone for some lemonade?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Arm Chair Sales Manager

This is an experiment. I get many questions regarding what it would be like to do business in Argentina. For those of you who do not know our story I will give you a short summary.

We started baking cookies out of our home after I begged my wife to try it just for the hell of it. I would go around with a Tupperware in hand visiting the local bars and cafes of Palermo Viejo.

The demand and interest soon started to grow for our homemade cookies. We soon rented a small space in Palermo Viejo and started to serve delicatessens, wine stores, and cheese and meat shops. We also noted that we would outgrow our new location quickly so we started to look for a new place.

Now we have a state of the art baking facility consisting of 600m2. We supply the same type of small independently owned shops that we did from the beginning but we also supply some bigger clients as well. Some of our clients include McDonald’s, Falabella, Aroma Café, Freddo, Munchi´s, The Coffee Store, Al Queso, queso, etc.

It is impossible to give an exact reason or explanation as to how we got from baking cookies at home to sending out pallets of cookies to major corporations. However, I could give you a glimpse into what happens client to client. This is where this experiment comes into play.

I want to give you the opportunity to play armchair sales manager. I will present you with either a target or new client. I will give as much information to you as possible and either a problem or a goal and you can give me comments as to what you would do or what you think I should do. You can pretend to be my coach, boss, or mentor.

I present the first case. In this case I will with hold the name of the client. I may or may not do that in the future. We will see how this evolves.

The Coffee Store

This is a new client for us. They have a chain of coffee shops throughout the city. For those of you in the States, it would be the closest thing to a Starbucks that we have. Our proposal to them was to present a low priced yummy alternative to what they were currently offering with their coffees in the shape of a cantucci (little biscotti). However, for us that product is a very low margin product and part of the agreement was that they would also buy from us Cookies as well as have our brand in their shelves, which they would buy on consignment (Sugar & Spice branded product). We would also develop new products for them down the line.

Four months have passed by and they seemed to be very pleased with our cantucci. The product on consignment sells well in some stores and in some others it doesn’t. This last point was to be expected. So far, they have not added any other products to their line-up. This, even though, one of their locations even went so far as to open packages that were on consignment to sell the cookies out of a jar. I have had meetings with them and have presented several options.

Our cookies are a high price alternative to what they currently have. My argument is that if they have better tasting, higher quality cookies, even though their margins might shrink a little bit, they will end up selling more.

What do you think? What should be my next move with this company? What would you do? If you need or want more information you could also ask me and I will do my best to answer you.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sneek Peek - New Packaging for Sugar & Spice

One of the things I want to use this space for is to show new things that are coming out soon for Sugar & Spice. We have new packaging for our products that will enable us to export and to serve bigger clients, where the handling of the cookies would be different from the smaller delicatessen, wine and cheese shops around town.

This new packaging will be seen in Falabella for those of you who live in Buenos Aires.

The new boxes have two useful sides; one side has the picture of the product and the other side has a window so people can confirm that we are not just a pretty picture. We actually do put that much chocolate and nuts into our cookies.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A car is just a car

I have been in Argentina since 1999. I really love it here. I went through an adaptation period, which is normal. I come from a different culture. I was able to adapt to some things quicker than others due to my mother being Mexican and my father Colombian. One of the things that I really have a problem with is the car culture.

I get the sense that to most people here a car is a piece of metal on 4 wheels that takes you from point A to point B. This is a refreshing point of view from the other side of the spectrum in the United States where a lot of people’s cars are their babies. However, coming from the United States you can’t help but having some sort of attachment to your car even if your car is not your baby. A car is a big investment; I would like to have it clean, well maintained and safe.

I have seen my car, being the only one on the block; get backed up into for example. The guy apologized and I was really at a loss for words. I see the whole block empty and this moron has to back up into the only car parked on the block? Actually I told him that if he could at least start paying attention to his driving it would be a load off my mind and it would be more meaningful to me than his apology. He kind of looked at me as if I had two heads.

I also had someone repeatedly back up into my car while I was in it and honking on the horn. I had a tirade of insults ready for him when he got out of the car. He actually responded saying that I don’t have a Mercedes, what should I be so upset about.

I could go on and on. Is it a weird car culture? Is my car
a moron magnet?