Agbeni wholesalers market is the "mother of markets" in the city of Ibadan. The market specializes in wholesale distribution of processed household provisions and supplies produced by the light manufacturing industry in Lagos and Ibadan.
The photos below show scenes from the market. A brief description of the unique structure of the distribution chain in Nigeria, from the manufacturer to the final consumer, will help the reader make sense of the apparent "jumble" of the scenery presented in the photos.
Readers from high income Western countries must keep in mind that the Nigerian economy is categorized as "less developed." The structure of distribution channels in Nigeria is, therefore, significantly different from what obtains in relatively high income countries.
The distribution channel from manufacturer to final consumer is very highly fragmented, with several layers of intermediaries interposing themselves between the manufacturer and final consumer, breaking down the bulk of the product at every level in the chain from the wholesaler/distributor's level to the micro-retailer's level.
Agbaje Street is single massive sprawl of open-air shopping mall consisting of thousands of small shops operating collectively at the level of the North American retail store. But behind the scenes at the market are the wholesalers,' as we shall see...
The roadside traders at Agbaje do not deal directly with the consumer, rather their stalls and shops are patronized by petty traders who buy and break the bulk of the product into even smaller packagings and resell to consumers
Note the woman with the carton of "Petals Hair Oil" balanced on her head. She is a petty trader. She buys a carton of the product at a discount at Agbaje, breaks the carton into smaller units and resells to final users.
Most traders in household provisions and supplies are women. This woman guards her purchases jealously.
Unlike in high income countries, at the base of the distribution channel is not the retail chain but the petty trader, and finally at an even lower level, the "street hawker," whose entire stock may be no more than a few dollars in value.
The excessive fragmentation of the distribution chain arises from the fact that the final consumer, that is, the average Nigerian, is a low income buyer who, because of her financial limitations, purchases household provisions and supplies in very small quantities. It does not matter whether she is expecting the "Mayan Apocalypse" tomorrow or in a few hours, the average Nigerian housewife lacks the economic power to stock up on supplies like her Western counterpart. She must make daily fresh purchases for household consumption. The average Nigerian housewife typically goes to the market to buy enough provisions to last a day or two. Poorer Nigerians cannot even afford to stock up on provisions to last that long!
"indomie" is the most popular noodles on the Nigerian market. The top floor of the building is the sales office of a wholesaler. Wholesalers at the highest level of the distribution channel are called "distributors."
Nigerian women learn to balance loads on their heads from very early in life. Women prefer to balance loads on their heads because unlike the men, they lack arm strength required to lift and carry heavy loads.
This woman is eaten up with curiosity. She has been trailing the photographer for a while.
The consequence of low purchasing power and inability to stock up on provisions is that the market at the lowest level of the distribution channel comes to the doorstep of the Nigerian family in the form of the street hawker, who breaks the bulk of the product into tiny packages sufficient only for a single use or incident of consumption. For instance, the hawker may package sugar into quantities sufficient for a single cup of tea, that is, a few grams of sugar. She may package salt in small quantities for cooking a few meals or break down the 100kg bag of parboiled rice into single tin measures, just enough to prepare a single meal of boiled rice for a few people. The family that purchases in such quantities must make a separate purchase for every single meal or occasion of consumption.
Cartons of sugar stacked high in a Nigerian market
With the above facts in mind, the apparent disorganized jumble of the market scenery in the photos begins yield its structure.
At the highest level of the distribution channel is the "distributor," who buys directly from the manufacturer in truckloads. The distributor is typically a specialist, who buys a small selection of products in large quantities.
Note the manner in which product cartons are stacked high to optimize use of cramped space. Tinned tomatoes, cocoa beverages, and tinned milk products. "Milo" (the green-painted building in the background) is a popular brand of cocoa beverage. "Cowbell" (the blue-painted building in the background) is probably the most popular brand of powdered milk in Nigeria.
A petty trader on the main street watches the traffic. She buys in cartons from the big traders on Agbaje Street and breaks down the bulk into individual pieces of the product. This lady stocks lightbulbs, batteries, cellotapes, torchlights, lanterns, matches etc.
Distributors are categorized as "major" and "minor" distributors. The buildings you see in the background of the market scene include offices and sales outlets of the distributors. Depending on the bulkiness of the product he deals in, the "major distributor" will often only maintain a sales office in the market with his warehouse situated at a convenient location away from the market.
The stalls you see stocked with cartons of provisions by the roadside, represent the second level in the distribution channel. The level consists of individual traders, who have some cash capital to buy "in cartons" from the distributor. The "big trader" may buy in truckloads or busloads or in cartloads, depending on the level of capitalization of his trading business.
Ologede Street. The lady hawks loaves of bread with margarine. She applies the margarine spread for the buyer. Because of its high energy content, laborers,
popularly called "alabaru" at markets, feed heavily on bread and margarine. The association of laborers with bread and margarine is a popular joke in Ibadan.
Ibadan, Nigeria: A trader displays cartons of different brands of household insecticides and malaria drugs
What the foregoing analysis boils down to is that, unlike in North America, big retail chains do not exist in Nigeria. The purchasing power of the average Nigerian cannot support the bulk of purchase considered "retail" in a high income economy. So the market moves to break the bulk into smaller quantities, bypassing the retail chain store model, typical of North American supply pyramid.
Products never come with a price tag at a Nigerian market. Women haggle endlessly and sometimes quarell over the right price
The stalls you see by the roadside sell products at the bulk level typical of big retail chains in higher income countries. But here in Nigeria, intermediaries at this level of the distribution channel do not usually deal directly with the consumer. Rather, they deal with a large number of "petty traders" who buy a few cartons of their products and break the merchandise into smaller units for resale.
A distributor offloads a consignment on Ologede Street
Nigerian "petty traders" deal directly with middle income purchasers. But their sales outlets are also patronized by even smaller "petty traders," who buy from them to resell to consumers in even smaller packaging.
At the base of the supply pyramid is the street hawker, who buys from a trader of his or her choice, breaks the product in tiny packages and hawks to the doorstep of the final consumer.