How to increase sales, be more Colombian

David Pinkham Partner

One of the great pleasures I am fortunate enough to enjoy in life are frequent visits to South
America. My personal favourite country on this continent is Colombia (and not just because I am
married to a Colombian). It is a country of such great diversity and contrasts. I learn something new
and valuable on every trip.

My personal favourite country on this continent is Colombia…..

….. and not just because I am married to a Colombian.

It is a country of such great diversity and contrasts. I learn something new and valuable on every trip.

The Big City and its suburbs

I have recently returned from a trip with family and friends to Medellin. It is a fast-growing city of some four million people and is considered by many to be the remote working capital of South America. It faces fierce competition from Buenos Aires for this title but its year-round near perfect weather elevates it above the more seasonal Argentinian capital in my view.

On the outskirts of Medellin lies a sleepy suburban town, once a countryside village but now consumed by the expansion of the Antioquian capital. It is away from the tourist trail (it only has one hotel) which adds to its charm. 

Despite its small size it has several claims to fame. Firstly, a young footballer by the name of James Rodriguez started his professional football career for the local second division team. Who? you may ask. Well, look up the top goal scorer at the Brazil 2014 World Cup.

A more notorious resident of Envigado was Pablo Escobar, once the world’s seventh richest person amassing a fortune from the cocaine trade before his demise in 1993. The town has clearly benefitted from his patronage although now somewhat faded thirty years later.

It is also home to Ernesto.

Bar Atlenal

I enjoy a glass of beer in good company. 

On a quiet street corner near the centre of town is probably my favourite watering hole. Bar Atlenal, resplendent in green and white livery, proudly displaying its allegiance to the country’s most successful football team, Atletico Nacional. I didn’t dare ask about the local team Envigado.

The bar is basic to say the least. It has some tables and chairs, a small loo behind saloon-style doors for the gents (stand-up only) and a ladies which is so small you can’t close the door when sitting down (I am reliably informed). Standing behind the bar is the proprietor, a jolly looking fellow with a glint in his eye.

You would walk straight past this bar without a second glance unless you were taken there by one of the locals.

After a beer or two and a shot of the local firewater, Aguardiente (light liquorice aroma followed by hints of crushed ant), I decided to use the facilities. Returning to the bar in the style of John Wayne, I took a brief interest in the antique jukebox. It clearly hadn’t worked for many years. The proprietor noted my interest. He also noticed we were preparing to leave.

Within minutes the local electrician entered the bar, pulled forward the enormous jukebox exposing the bare wires that came out of the wall into the back of the machine. We all watched with quiet fascination wondering about Colombian Health and Safety and the life expectancy of the local electricians.

At this precise moment, in ran a young boy, armed with one of those high-powered water pistols! We were about to flee for our lives but were intercepted by the proprietor who, at the same time, managed to disarm his grandson without any of the drama you’d expect when taking a toy from a child.

The jukebox repair was not going well. Having decided the issue wasn’t between the jukebox and the wall, the electrician had relocated. He was now perched high up on a step ladder positioned on top of the bar, straddling the gap the bar staff use when collecting glasses. His top half had disappeared into the roof where he had found more bare wires to play with.

We carried on drinking, enjoying the show, knowing we couldn’t leave until we were listening to “Por una Cabeza” on the jukebox. And yes, I know that is an Argentinian song, but Bar Atlenal is also a Tango bar, and anyway, Shakira wasn’t even born when they made this jukebox.

Finally, the electrician admitted failure. The grandson reappeared from behind the bar, this time armed with a guitar. Yes of course we would love to hear him play. How long had he been learning – 12 weeks!

The Great Salesman

It was at this moment that it began to dawn on me that we were in the presence of a great salesman.  

We had visited the bar for one beer. Our jolly proprietor had introduced us to the local firewater which was to be taken as a chaser (another beer needed). He then turned my momentary interest in his defunct jukebox into further sales opportunities. The arrival of the electrician had added a sense of obligation and increased the spectacle. We had happily whiled away a couple of hours watching, laughing, drinking.

Never mind that the jukebox couldn’t be fixed (in hindsight, I am fairly sure the proprietor already knew this), musical entertainment could be provided by his grandson. Believe me, you need another beer listening to a guitar novice practicing his chords.

And slowly, stealthily, the proprietor’s son had set up a Barbeque blocking the exit, cooking pork belly. There was no escape.

How do I increase sales

One of the questions I am most frequently asked by clients is how they can increase sales. You can read a thousand books on the topic (and I have read quite a few). However, I have learned more about increasing sales to existing customers from Ernesto on one short visit to a small bar in a quiet suburb of a large city in a faraway land.

We’re all ears

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