I saw a wonderful example of business collaboration a few weeks ago in Chinchero, Peru. The Quechuan women in this tiny village high in the Andes have a centuries-old tradition of weaving alpaca wool, an important source of income which supplements the farming. Instead of each woman vying for tourists to visit her own small home, however, these smart women formed a cooperative to sell their intricate work. Now, cooperatives are nothing new. But these women took their collaboration a step farther by asking themselves what extra value they could offer to their visitors. And they came up with a fantastic, savvy answer for themselves – they set up a small outdoor classroom where they demonstrate product development from start to finish. Not only does this teach outsiders their weaving tradition, it solidly supports their pricing structure by making each potential buyer acutely aware of the many complicated steps that are involved in producing even the simplest of their colorful alpaca wool products. It keeps the buyer in their establishment much longer than a typical browsing tourist would stay, thus increasing the chance that each visitor will make a purchase. And, the women showcase their warm hospitality as well as their expertise by welcoming visitors with warm Coca tea (helpful for the altitude) and offering bench seating made comfortable by thick sheepskins added on top.
I was fascinated and engaged by watching as several women showed me how they clean the wool with “soap” made from a local plant, let me try spinning the soft clean wool into thread, and then showed me how they dye the wool fibers with plants, herbs, and even a little bug that grows on cactus (making a deep purple hue). The more I watched and participated, the more I came to understand the intrinsic value of the pieces they offered for sale. The Quechuan women sealed the “know, like, and trust” factor by offering exemplary customer service, too! When it started raining, a young woman disappeared and returned a few minutes later from a village store, carrying plastic ponchos which she offered to us (no charge). When the cool breeze came up with the rain, I was quickly offered a second cup of warming tea. And when I said in my faltering Spanish that our trip to Peru was part of a birthday celebration for my husband, the women gathered around him and gave him an on-the-spot Peruvian birthday celebration, throwing confetti on him and offering their traditional birthday blessings.
These women have it all – talent, true interest in their customers, and a willingness to educate about what they do. It doesn't surprise me that I spent Peruvian soles there. I have a story and a memory to go along with the soft alpaca pieces I brought home. Marketing and merchandising really couldn't get any better!