Media personality Neil Giuseppi launched his new book, The Journey Continues, on September 15 at the audio-visual room of the National Library (NALIS), Port-of-Spain.
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Trini treats wrapped up in a box
The term “tabanca” in T&T conjures up feelings of heartbreak and longing.
For most, it usually involves a relationship gone sour, but it can also mean a yearning for a place once visited or trinkets and treats of one’s homeland.
Recognising the opportunity to satisfy this type of “tabanca”—the need for local items such as sugar cake, tamarind balls, toolum, home-made pepper sauce and even preservatives—entrepreneurs Marcia Seales-Rodney and her husband Merrill came up with what they believe to be the perfect solution.
Operating since October 2015, Tabanca Box has shipped packages containing Trini delicacies to persons as far as Norway and North Korea.
As the Rodneys tell it, the idea for the company was formulated around their desire to ensure relatives who visit these shores annually could get everything they wanted.
Speaking about their initial foray into what can only be described as one of the newest business-model sweeping the globe, the couple said, as their respective mothers both live in the US along with other siblings—it was always chaotic when they descended on them, each wanting to get as much local items as they could.
Stating that it was back in 2014/2015 after both sets of family members landed in T&T and they found themselves struggling to source the desired items, the Rodneys’ realised the potential for a business.
Recalling the “ridiculous” situation at the time, Marcia, a mother of four, beamed as she looked at her husband and recounted her words that “there has to be an easier way of doing what we are doing. I think it is better to figure out a way to let my mom and your mom and our sisters get whatever they need, whenever they want.”
After conducting careful research to ensure there were established platforms prior to embarking on the venture, Marcia said: “What we did not know at the time was that none of these things were available to T&T or the Caribbean.”
Venturing in to the new territory, the two said they had to “tweak” the way they intended to approach the business.
To start, they created what can only be described as their main sellers: the “Hot Box” and the “Sweet Box.”
The Hot Box contains hot and spicy/hot or spicy items such as pepper-sauce, preserves, fruit relishes and cocoa tea; while the Sweet Box contains items such as sugar-cake, toolum, bene-ball, choo-choos and chockles with the Rodneys guaranteeing delivery within three days of the order being placed.
Along with information cards on each item, Marcia said each box also contains a surprise for the buyer.
The pair is also gearing up to add to their stable the “Ultimate Hot Box” starting in October, which they hope will be equally as popular with their clients.
Indicating their desire to showcase and promote other entrepreneurs like themselves, Merrill said: “We realised very early that this was a way for people to know about T&T and also, for our local entrepreneurs to be known worldwide.”
With sales increasing steadily, Marcia said they have also taken the opportunity to introduce Indo and Afro-Trini t-shirts on which local foods are advertised—yet another item which is growing in popularity.
Marcia said their largest order to date had come from a woman in Norway who had not visited T&T in 20 years and was desperately missing home.
Asked about some of the challenges they had encountered along the way, Marcia said they were initially put off after being charged $200 to ship a two-pound box.
Displaying savvy negotiating skills, the couple were able to convince the shippers to strike a deal by cutting that figure in half once they met the requisite targets which they have continued to do.
With her mother’s health causing them to reconsider continuing business, Marcia credited divine intervention as the source of their success and continued business growth.
Even as it continues to grow internationally, the Tabanca Box Company is proving to be a big hit with the local citizenry who are now using the items as tokens, thank-you gifts, wedding favours and anniversary presents.
Hand-picking the local small-business owners they wanted to partner with, Marcia said: “The greatest challenge so far locally is the packaging of products.”
Although they are still in the process of acquiring branded boxes in which to ship items, Marcia said they are currently using plain brown boxes.
Supported by their children whose ages range between eight and 20 years old, the deeply-rooted spiritual couple attributed their success to God as they said: “Everything we do, we do it with God’s guidance as we believe that if God is not behind everything, no matter what you do, it will not succeed.”
Working towards their ultimate goal to have a Tabanca Box on grocery shelves in the future, Marcia said they are already exploring expansion efforts as they want to offer Indian sweets, African sweets and other Caribbean foods along with souvenir items and collector cards detailing T&T’s folklore.
Admitting she was the dreamer while her husband was the more pragmatic one, Marcia said that building the company’s potential had only just begun.