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Tremendous Opportunity

... up to the highest section of the bamboo poles. With a small knife she pried
open a section in the side of the bamboo and exposed a cache of thriftily hoarded
Ringgit more than sufficient to buy the tobacco. Tjiang Nio had been saving from
her cake sales and the proceeds of the shop. With the financing in place for the
purchase of the large store of tobacco, the family’s mercantile direction was now
firmly set. From now on, Seeng Tee and Tjiang Nio would dedicate all their joint
resources and energy to developing their tobacco business.

In addition to tobacco products, they could also request that spices such as chocolate,
vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves be added to the tobacco blend. This blend was
then hand-rolled at the stall into a cigarette on a small manual machine. Seeng Tee
and his wife soon realised that the time-consuming practice of cigarette rolling was detracting from their ability to sell higher-margin processed food products and
cigarettes. Once, they discussed about closing the tobacco portion of the business
and dedicating more shop space to the other products. Tjiang Nio, however, felt
that customers might prefer to buy pre-rolled products in the most popular blend
combinations. This hunch proved correct and the business expanded quickly with the
availability of pre-rolled conventional white and clove or “kretek” cigarettes at the
family stall.

The new products provided good returns for the meagre working capital available at
the time. However, it was necessary for both Seeng Tee and Tjiang Nio to work late
into the night rolling the cigarettes by kerosene lantern in their small house under the
bridge. The blending and rolling process eventually occupied completely the first floor of
the bamboo-walled house. In fact, the tobacco and rolling equipment had to be pushed
to the sides of the room at night to provide space for the family’s sleeping mats.

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