As a not-for-profit it shouldn’t matter if business is good or bad, surprisingly it does. When Borderline started in 2004, the founders could not have predicted the future. Not our current situation with lock-downs and restaurant closures, not the years prior when Borderline was a financially healthy organisation. The successful years and the decisions to keep some of the well deserved profit for leaner years, has helped Borderline weathering the storm so far.
Financially 2020 was a disaster. From March on-wards each month we spend more money than we received from customers. A large part of our customer base had returned to their home countries and the people who were still here had changed their behaviour and habits. At the end of 2020, when we collected all financial numbers, Borderline had become sufficiently thinner. Still the numbers indicated we could continue for another year.
From the outside Borderline looks like one organisation. And it is. Our finances are a bit more complicated. Not that we have assets in tax havens, or that we have complicated financial constructions in order to avoid taxes. What we have done since the beginning is separate the different parts of Borderline financially, before we bring it all together. Meaning we had three different parts all with different income en expenses. The Handicraft Shop, the Tea Garden and the Gallery. This was done to avoid that a very successful Tea Garden would hide the fact that the Gallery was draining money.
After several years with three partitions we refined Borderline by adding three more sections. Our Online selling, our Cooking Classes and our Borderline Products. To give an example, from the start the rent would be divided into three, so the Handicraft Shop was responsible for 33.33% of the rent as was the Tea Garden and the Gallery. The same happened with electricity and water and other overhead costs.
There were years when the Gallery would be very profitable and there were years the Handicraft shop was subsidising the Gallery. Some board members, when we still had them, suggested to close the Gallery. Others didn’t like that idea. The Gallery and more important the Artists were part of Borderline. One reasoning was that closing the Gallery would not eliminate their 33.33% of the rent. The Shop and the Garden would have to pay 50% anyway.
The new structure would change the overall cost distribution. Handicraft shop and Tea Garden would be responsible for 30% each, while Gallery, Online Shop, Cooking Class and Borderline Products would cover 10% each. This did not make the Gallery solvent all the time, it did look better and more manageable.
For a few years each part of Borderline would turn a positive result, with the Gallery hovering around zero. The profit generated would be used in different ways. First of all we made a distinction between profit generated by Handicraft shop and Online shop and the rest. As Borderline is a collective we want to use the profit from the Handicraft shop for the Women Groups that are part of that collective. It has been used to organise workshops, we created an interest free loan program and we financed the printing of labels for each group. The profits also meant we could buy the products from the groups instead of adding products on a consignment base, what we used at the beginning.
The profit from the Tea Garden, Cooking Class and Borderline Products is generated by Borderline staff so we feel we can use that to develop Borderline itself. If you ever wondered who paid for the upgraded kitchen, now you know. The same for the Cooking Class space. We also use part of this profit to share with Borderline staff.
When Covid hit the fan, things changed. People went home, travelers stopped traveling and Borderline’s business took a dive. In March or April 2020 we decided to keep things as they were, hoping the situation would return to normal in a few months. After 6 months staff of Borderline decided to cut their working hours and their salaries by 25%. They could see the financial situation at Borderline changing and, at that moment, there was no indication things would improve so they knew that if they wanted Borderline to pass this period intact, they had to make this change.
When we reported to our landlady what staff had decided, they followed through immediately by lowering the rent by 25%. Borderline has a fantastic landlady. There is also a collective interest, still it is our personal relationship with our landlady that made this possible. After many more months with the situation not improving, staff decided on another salary cut while it was impossible to cut working hours as Borderline tried to keep opening hours in tact.
For many months now the financial numbers have turned red. While we definitely sell a lot less in the handicraft shop, the situation with Borderline products is not so grave. We are talking about your peanut-butter and bread, your yoghurt and tahini. Partly because labour cost for these activities have been dedicated to the Tea Garden, partly because those who stayed in Mae Sot did visit every Tuesday for bread and other days for Muesli, Jam, Peanut-Muesli Bars and free range eggs.
The Tea Garden, which we should start referring to as a Restaurant, has not been able to turn a profit since the start of Covid. The period we could only do take away were hard. Not only financially but mostly because of the lack of interactions with people. It is not the same. Someone picks up his box or sitting down asking for the internet password, another coffee or anything else.
The days restaurants are allowed to have people sitting in the place have been the best. Children running amok, a blessing. People asking for more water, a joy. The little interactions, pointing out where the toilet is, explaining why smoking needs to take place where we just decided it needs to take place.
These last few weeks we have seen people returning to Mae Sot, not massively but still. And each time we say: “So nice to see you again” we feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel. September was better than August and perhaps October will be better again. It won’t be black numbers in the financial papers, but we will be nearing it, and that will be the moment we can see a time when Borderline is able to take care of its own again, when staff can be awarded as they deserve, when women-groups can feel the benefit of Borderline.
Genuine Vegan Cheese, although this doesn’t exist. Will it confuse people? Deceive? Perhaps. A carnivore would stop reading after the word Vegan. A Vegan would wonder how a product so attached to the issue giving direction to their life could actually be consumed after all, and after some searching would know it cannot so this isn’t it.
And the rest of us would learn how interesting the world can be. By not eating dairy nothing would happen to them. And deciding that this is not a very good cheese would mean they do have working receptors and a working brain.
In all fairness, the product on the photo has been made by mixing Rice Flour, Turmeric, Salt, Apple Vinegar, Mustard and water and steam the whole thing for 45 minutes. Call it what you want, eat it with bread and mustard.
This week our biggest challenge was a reaction to a post where we offered Vegan Cheese. In the past we have offered the exact same product calling it “fake-rice flour-cheese-substitute” or something like that without selling one piece. This time we caused some understandable controversy which led to all “cheese” being sold on the first day. Don’t worry a new batch has been produced and is available at the shop, if you read this on October 14.
This period our biggest challenge is to set up a working Online shop so we can sell to our friends abroad and find new friends. If you have any ideas how we can improve our presence online, send us a mail: [email protected]
And check out our BorderOnline store on www.borderlinecollective.org