JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED © Duncan Graham 2006
After spending seven hours in a Malang hospital’s emergency unit, what’s a medico got to do to wind down?
If you’re Dr Lisa Setiawati then you open a business and see only the sweet and smooth things in life, not the gore and shattered limbs of the daily routine.
And while she gets a steady stream of broken bodies into the hospital needing repair – usually the result of motorbike accidents and fighting - customers to her ice cream parlours have blossomed and her enterprise thrived. She’s now negotiating to franchise her concept into Jakarta, Bali and Surabaya.
Four years ago she decided to sell her commercial laundry and use the profits to sell ice cream. She’d been a pioneer in the Laundromat business, but other operators soon arrived and profit margins tumbled.
On a brief visit to New Zealand she’d sampled the vast varieties and rich flavors of that country’s dairy produce, with ice cream a major on the national menu.
Although Indonesians like ice cream it’s an up-market extra usually enjoyed as a sit-down snack. In the West it’s a recreation food often eaten in the street and on the run – a practice considered impolite in the archipelago.
“Cooking had always been my hobby, even though in my childhood as the only daughter I was banned from the kitchen,” Dr Setiawati said.
“I considered opening a restaurant, but my research showed that the clientele tended to be static. People also go to eat quickly, then leave, rather than sit around and talk.
“Malang (in central East Java) is a university town, constantly refreshed by new intakes of students. I thought an ice-cream café would be an ideal place where they could sit around and chat.
“It’s also a food that’s not exclusive to any one age or ethnic group”
She chose a shop in Jalan Galunggung, a street within easy range of almost 20 campuses, and the decision was right. A second shop has been opened on a by-pass and this, she said, has also done well. The name Confetti was chosen because it’s associated with celebrations and happy times.
At first she bought ice cream from a factory at Probolingo on the north coast of East Java, but transport difficulties created too many problems. She had already researched the manufacture of ice cream and knew the ingredients and mechanical requirements.
She understood the need for close attention to detail, the importance of the right serving temperature (5 degrees C), the need to get the texture correct so the product scooped easily while staying firm. A slight sheen also helped presentation, particularly when garnished with fruits.
So Dr Setiawati took another business leap. She bought a machine, ordered fresh milk from the nearby hill town of Batu, and set up a factory. She now employs 35 staff making or selling her products. Throughout she keeps a close watch on the manufacture and health standards.
Every three months she writes a new menu of her latest ideas – adding flavors like green tea and durian along with the standards like chocolate and vanilla. One product has been designed for diabetics. Each new concoction is heavily promoted through the print media to keep public interest high.
The décor, crockery and furniture in her cafes have also been her selection. Throughout her ambition has been to create an atmosphere where customers will take it easy - and keep ordering.
“I’ve never formally studied management or business,” Dr Setiawati, 35, said. “Nor do I want to – I’ve had to do enough study to become a doctor. I believe in the principle of learning-by-doing. Having an MBA is no guarantee of success.
“It’s important to be observant and to understand all the processes of business. Many people make the mistake of trying to please themselves, like selling the sort of clothes they prefer – without considering the customer.
“You have to be interested in the product and know the processes. But at all times you must keep an eye on the profit.”
Unlike many small business proprietors she’s not constantly in her factory or shops, believing that bosses who do that show distrust in their employees.
She holds a monthly meeting with her staff who are encouraged to air their grievances and talk through problems. These get-togethers were also used to evaluate the business. She said her management style was being aware of detail, listening and communicating – skills which come from her profession.
Dr Setiawati said she has no intention of quitting her hospital work because she enjoys the challenges that come from the great variety of cases that rush into the emergency unit.
She also put her talents to work as a volunteer after the Yogya earthquake where most injuries were similar to those met in the emergency ward – lacerations, fractured skulls and bones.
“I work seven hours a day, four days a week, in the hospital where I’ve been for seven years,” she said. “I don’t have a private practice so can concentrate on Confetti after hours. If the franchise negotiations are successful the shops will have to sell my ice cream, but will be free to market their own snacks.
“Infrastructure is a big problem in Indonesia. I send ice cream to Bali packed in insulation and using busses. It’s cheap and so far successful, but for other deliveries I’ll have to buy a refrigerated van.
“I’ve seldom had problems with people taking me seriously. Maybe that’s because I’m a doctor and people trust me. It might be different if I was a housewife.
“I recommend any woman or man who’s interested in business to go ahead – you’ll never know if you never try. You can’t just stay alone in the house. Motivation is very important. So is creative energy.
“Try something new. Don’t be afraid. Get out of your routine. I never wanted to be in a situation where I was dependent on others.
“I want to stay calm, to not get headaches. I pray to God. I want to do my best and not hurt anyone. I see a lot of pain and problems in my hospital job, but we should respect life and never forget to count our blessings.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 25 September 2006)