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Nepali Cobbler Peddles Condoms

Nepali shoemaker

Inside a stall in a row shops in Bhandara, just off the edge of the highway winding around the perimeter of Chitwan National Park, Mishiri Ram Mohara polished a piece of leather for the pair of shoes he was making. The cobbler, a 40-year-old father of three, spends his working hours making and selling shoes along with a seemingly incongruent companion product - condoms.

On the wooden shelves lining the plank walls of Mishiri's kiosk, handmade shoes rest next to a well-stocked corner display of the Nepal Contraceptive Retail Sales (CRS) Company's black and red boxes of Dhaal condoms and other condom brands. Although he clearly displays his wares, discretion is the key to Mishiri's condom sales success.

"Most people pretend to be shopping for shoes," he said with a sly grin, "but they rarely leave without a condom." Customers appreciate the quality of craftsmanship in his shoes, according to Mishiri, but what they most appreciate is being able purchase condoms discretely, without having to visit a shop that carries many consumable items and is frequented by friends or neighbors or relatives who might gossip is they noticed someone from the community purchasing a condom.

Discretion has paid off. Sales of condoms vastly outnumber shoe purchases in Mishiri's kiosk. "In one month, I sell 10 or 12 pairs of shoes," he says, "perhaps 15 pairs during festivals. In one month I sell 10 boxes of Dhaal." Each display-dispenser box contains 72 condoms, and, at roughly 720 condoms per month, Mishiri's sales overshadow those of the more traditional consumable goods outlets along the highway. Mishiri is one of the top condom sellers in the entire area.

Mishiri relocated from Birganj to Chitwan in 1985, and three years ago he was approached by Rishikesh Kafle, a CRS Field Sales Manager. Initially, Mishiri decided to sell condoms because it was his "social responsibility," but, like discretion, social responsibility has had its economic spill-over benefits - Mishiri earns monthly profits of between 200 and 300 rupees from condom sales, profits that require much less effort than shoemaking.

Marketing condoms at non-traditional outlets, like Mishiri's shoe shop, has extended the CRS rural and urban distribution network and increased customer choice through multiplying available outlets that may offer discretion along with convenient location.

Mishiri put down the pieces of leather he had been polishing and posed for a photograph with his two daughters and the son who is learning to make shoes and sell condoms as an apprentice to his father. When asked if he thought other shoemakers should sell condoms, Mishiri smiled and nodded: "You wouldn't wear nice shoes without socks, would you?"

The Nepal Contraceptive Retail Sales Company is a partner in the Nepal Social Marketing and Franchise Project (N-MARC), a USAID Private Sector Program Task Order under the management of the Academy for Educational Development (AED). N-MARC's goal is to increase the availability and sustained use of family planning, maternal and child health, and HIV/sexually transmitted infection prevention products and services in Nepal.

Posted October 2007

Read more about the Nepal Social Marketing and Franchise Project (N-MARC) project