Selling Ice to Eskimos, and Rice to a Balinese Restaurant


Selling Ice to Eskimos, and Rice to a Balinese Restaurant

Is this the most ingenious marketing campaign ever?

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “He could sell ice to an Eskimo”.  Well, I think I’ve found the equivalent – selling rice to a Balinese restaurant.  Or alternatively, I’ve discovered the most ingenious marketing campaign ever devised.

I have just been in Bali for four days at an intensive workshop, honing my speaking skills. I was with my amazing business mentor and Mayor of Smallville – Mr Andrew Griffiths – and a group of incredible people (including an Olympic athlete) who, like me, were there to learn new skills.

So we could all get to know each other before the hard work began, we trooped off to a typical Balinese warung (food stall) on the beach for our first evening together.

I’m not sure about you, but when I come to Bali, I expect to eat rice. Sate and rice, Nasi Goreng, Nasi Ayam. The centre of the island of Bali is dominated by rice growing.

In fact, there is so much rice in Bali that they have multiple words to describe it:

PADI – rice on the stalk/stem in the field

GABAH – unhusked rice grains

BERAS – uncooked rice that is bought at markets

NASI- cooked rice

Imagine our reaction when we arrived at the restaurant, only to be told that there was no rice.

We all thought we were hearing things. No rice in a Balinese warung? Seriously?  There are times when you think the world has gone mad, and this was one of them.

Courteously (as only the Balinese know how), we were offered either fries or baked potato as an alternative. Of course, we went with the flow, but fish curry and fries just doesn’t have the same authentic Balinese feeling.

As any business person worth their salt should do, our thoughts turned to what could have caused this calamity, this upheaval in the fabric of the universe. Bear in mind that being “out of rice” in Sanur is not like being “out of rice” in, say, Longreach.

Shops in Sanur are open at all sorts of odd hours, so the concept of having someone run down the road for a packet of rice is not beyond the realms of possibility.  In fact, that would be the obvious choice.

We came up with a couple of possible explanations:

  • The restaurant really did run out of rice, but there was no-one with sufficient time or motivation to make the journey to a nearby shop to replenish the supply.
  • The person in charge of purchasing had managed to get an amazing deal on potatoes and stocked up big time. In order to get through the inventory, the ruse of “running out of rice” was born, forcing all the patrons to eat chips or baked potato.
  • Aliens had invaded that particular warung and abducted all the rice just prior to opening time.  This theory was discounted on the grounds of implausibility.

After much discussion and laughter, we did manage to draw some valuable business lessons from our strange but hilarious experience.

1. Hiring the right team.

If you are recruiting, look for the appropriate work ethic. If your staff are going to be too lazy to walk down the road to fix an urgent problem, you don’t want them.

2. If you are putting a marketing spin on a retail strategy, at least be believable.

Saying that you’ve run out of rice in a Balinese restaurant is not something that your customers are going to accept without question.

3. The element of surprise can really work as a marketing tool.

Here I am recounting our experience on a blog site that receives more than 10,000 visits per month. Warung Nelayan Sanur may have planned this all along.  You just never know.

Perhaps “running out of rice” really was an ingenious marketing campaign.

Surprise your Australian tourist customers, make them laugh and talk about you.

One of them may write a blog post and tell the world about your little warung tucked away on the beach in Sanur, Bali, and everyone will want to visit the only restaurant in Bali that ran out of rice. Stranger things have happened

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