Mai Shai: Serving Tea, Smiling To Banks

Mai ShaiWITH commercial activities increasing in most cities across the country, people are getting used to new ways of doing things, including how they take their breakfasts and suppers, which has expanded the fast food sector. Fast food shops are found at street corners and also serve a variety of food drinks like tea and beverages.

Among these food shops is the tea seller, generally referred to Mai Shai, brewer of tea in Hausa.

Most of them operate in makeshift shops by the roadside, where their customers could easily see them early morning or in the evening. Though, they may appear insignificant, some people have made it a habit to visit tea shops as their first port of call in the morning, before reporting to work and the last place to visit at night.

Apart from the ubiquitous Mai Shai, there is also another group of women that move around the city vending cold tea. Hot or cold, the tea seller is around to serve customers and make a living.

Establishing a tea vending outlet does not take a fortune; all that is needed are tables, benches, a nice place to boil water or fry eggs and, of course, some provisions, including loaves of bread and noodles.

According to Ahmed, a Mai Shai based in Idi-Araba, Lagos, the business has changed from what it used to be when he first ventured into it in 1990 in Sokoto State, where he lived.

“We used to brew tea, add sugar and milk for customers, but now, their demands have changed and we just have to follow them to remain in business. Besides the normal tea, they ask for bread, fried egg or noodles with fried egg, which means we need to have a place for boiling water and also frying the eggs,” he said.

On the possibility to combining tea vending with light meals like noodles and eggs, Ahmed disclosed that these additions have increased his profit and attracted customers to his trading post.

“They are some of the strategies to increase sales. Customers come to my shop because they know it is a one-stop-food spot, which is actually good for business, “ he revealed.

According to Usman, to operate a successful tea vending shop, one has to combine it with a mini provisions store, where one could get the beverages and other condiments for a nourishing meal.

“If you must depend on the open shops for your provisions you might just be disappointed when you unknowingly run out of stocks; so the best thing, is to get your provisions from your mini-shop; with this, you would know when they are running out and have to replenish them. It would also enable the customers to make choices because they know the prices of some of the item, like sachets of milk and beverage you serve them.

“ Imagine, there are times I sell over 20 crates of egg and eight cartons of noodles, if I do not have them at hand I might be losing customers to my competitors,” he said.

Speaking on the monetary rewards of the business, Alhaji Isa said tea business has given him money no other business could have given him.

“ My shai business provided money for me to build my house in Agege, go to Mecca in I998, train my children in the university and maintain my wives. I have over eight hands helping me in the business.

“ The money may come small, but they are steady; it is like a little drops of water making a mighty water,” he noted.

Highlighting some of the challenges of the business, Isa revealed that during peak periods, which are mostly in the evenings from 7pm to 11.30pm, one could stand for hours to take orders and serve customers. This on its own takes its toll on the health of the operators, which is the reason you find operators fagged out after business hours.

Saying tea business has much gains and little losses, Ahmed, who changed from selling sugarcane to tea, divulged that the tea or beverage business has no up or down season. According to him people drink tea all the time, they even complement it with noodles and fried egg.

“What I put in in terms of water, beverage and, even, kerosene to prepare the tea are nothing compared to what I make. I get close to N25,000 per week as profit and with Ramadan, it might double because Muslims break their fast with light meals such as tea.

“I bought my first car from the business and married as well. Though I have to diversify to other businesses to get more money, I must say the real money for the diversification comes form my shai business. The business brings in unimaginable profit,” he revealed.

With such a high profit, one would think a cup of tea goes for N200 or more, but Ahmed said no. “A cup of tea, depending on the size, is between N30 and N50, but you must know that the bigger the cup, the higher the price. Besides this, the type of beverage a customer wants or how he or she wants it to be mixed also affect pricing. While a cup of Lipton tea with a teaspoon of sugar and a few droplets of liquid milk goes for N30 or N50 depending on the size, similar cup of Milo or chocolate drink may go for N150, N200 or even N300.

“As this goes with the beverages, so it is with the noodles; so if you calculate the capital input and the output, you will have course to agree with me that it’s all again little loss, if we must be truthful to ourselves,” he said.

While some sell their tea hot or warm, Adebisi Adeleke has taken the business the other way round, providing same product to customers who want theirs cold. She takes her wares in transparent plastic container around markets and busy bus stops.

According to her, not all people like their tea hot or warm, so we have provided for that segment of tea market.

Explaining that the demand is almost as high as the normal hot tea segment, Adeleke disclosed that she sells three plastic containers of cold tea a day and hopes to increase it.

During hot days, she disclosed, “demand is usually high and on such occasions, I sell two to three big containers of cold beverages. I make enough money to maintain myself, as a single mother, pay my bills and send my two children to private schools.”

Revealing that the market is large and that she cannot cover it alone, Adebisi noted that she puts in little to get much.

“I do not need firewood or kerosene to boil water; all I do is pour very clean water into a bowl and empty some tins of beverage drinks into it. And for those who may not like the taste, I go with extra sugar and milk, which they have to pay for.

“This on it’s own brings in another profit, as I have to measure the sugar and milk to cover my overhead and make some profit,” she noted.

How much is a cup worth to give such money? “It’s N50 and you would not believe that some parents, including school children have taken it as part of their daily meal,” she said.

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