We set off from Colombo in a hired car heading north to visit the Rock fortress at Sigiriya. It was a 6-7 hour journey and our driver asked us if we wanted to visit a Spice Garden on the way.
We have seen many of these in Kerala but having a bit of time up our sleeves we thought we would take a look at a Sri Lankan one and find out if we can learn anything new.
A couple of hours after leaving Colombo we pulled into a dirt parking area surrounded by trees.
A man appeared beside the car as if from nowhere and opened the door.
“Welcome, please follow me”, he said and immediately set off into the trees.
I looked around to see if we needed to pay an entrance fee but couldn’t see anywhere to do so and duly followed the man into the jungle. He stopped next to a tree and waited for us to catch up.
A gentle smiling man he explained that his family had been making Ayurvedic medicines for generations. His business was recognized by the government and they had 1000’s of acres under cultivation, growing ingredients for Ayurvedic medicines.
He showed us a Cinnamon tree and explained how the cinnamon is made from the bark and explained it’s health benefits.
We proceeded on to the next stop where he showed us vanilla, and then nutmeg, cocoa, sandalwood and so on, each time explaining the benefits and uses, and frequently reminding us that they were recognized by the Government.
He was a friendly guy and happy to answer any of our questions. I couldn’t help but wonder though how he earns his money. There had to be a catch.
I have become very suspicious over the years, knowing full well that there is no such thing as a free lunch or indeed a free spice garden tour. The constant reminders that they are recognized by the government also sounded alarm bells. What does that mean anyway? Recognized by the government. Does that mean when you walk down the street a politician will see you and say “Hi, how are you? How’s your family?”
After about ½ an hour we reached a hut at the bottom of the garden and were invited to take a seat. A nice hot glass of herbal tea was given to us along with a sheet of paper listing the various products that they manufacture and their uses. He gave us a pencil and then explained each product and said they are available to buy later, so to tick any that we thought we might be interested in.
Selling without selling, this guy is pretty slick.
After the explanation he told us that they provide a free Ayurvedic massage and invited us into the next room where we sat and two young boys proceeded to, very skilfully I must say, apply various ointments and oils and massaged our shoulders and arms. This was very pleasant and we both felt extremely relaxed afterwards.
By now we felt obligated to buy something. We had enjoyed a pleasant stroll through the garden, a nice cup of tea, a very relaxing 15 minute massage and so far no money had exchanged hands.
These guys are really clever. In fact I would say they are possibly the best salesmen in the world. First we are lulled into trusting them by accompanying them on a nice walk, providing us with lots of free information and answering all questions in a gentle helpful manner. They then give us free gifts; the herbal tea and the massage, and by this time we were feeling that it would be churlish not to buy at least something
Psychologists call this the law of reciprocity. If you have already accepted something you feel obligated to give something back.
Massage dispensed with we walked happily back up to the top of the slope towards the car-park and into another small hut where all the products were displayed.
“Is there anything on the list I gave you that you would like to take back with you?” He asked.
Well, why not? There were lots of things, we thought, and buy now trusting him completely and wanting to pay him back for all the time he had spent with us we started pulling bottles of product off the shelves.
Piling them up on his desk, he started adding them up on his calculator, finally giving us a figure. That sounds alright, we thought to ourselves. Quite reasonable.
Until he told us it was in US$ not Sri Lankan Rupees!
Ahh that’s how it works, I thought to myself!
Now The Boss and I have spent enough time together to know what each other is thinking and we have a good level of unspoken communication. We glanced at each other and started removing items from the pile, returning them to the shelves.
“Actually we don’t need this, and my Mum probably won’t use this so it would be a waste, etc. etc.” one excuse after another we told him, to explain why we were returning various items.
The salesman seemed quite relaxed, not fussed whether we took a lot or a little. I guess the profit margin must be so high that even one sale is a good day for him.
Reducing the pile by 2/3rds we asked him to add it up again and this time to tell us the price in Sri Lankan rupees. He came up with a much more reasonable figure but still one I am sure is more than the normal retail price.
We reduced the pile a little further but didn’t have the heart to discard everything and walk out of there empty-handed.
We asked him if he was disappointed that we weren’t taking so much. To which he replied, “ No, no, I am not a business man I just want you to be happy and take what you need”.
Boy this guy is smooth!
We paid him, he packed the items and escorted us back to the car with a smile, wishing us a safe journey.
We sat back in the car thinking, “I am sure we have overpaid,” but somehow we didn’t feel too bad. The price of experience we told ourselves. Plus we got some good mosquito repellent and Vanilla essence.
As we left another car pulled up, the next victim smiling inside. Blissfully unaware of what’s to come.