I have been admiring Coconut Guy’s hustle for two years now. It’s not a scam, there’s no crime, it’s soft-sell, everyone wins, nobody gets hurt, and it’s like that famous cologne: 60% of the time, it works every time.
Coconut Guy works the street in front of my apartment building. Actually, there is more than one Coconut Guy. There have to be at least ten different guys who work my street. And that’s only on my street. There are Coconut Guys all over town, near every touristy place. But for the sake of convenience, I call all of them Coconut Guy.
Here’s how his shtick works. He spots a group of tourists (they aren’t hard to find). It has to be a group, it won’t work with a solo tourist. He saunters up to them with his yoke of coconuts, as if he’s taking care of business, without really noticing the tourists. He looks like he’s just another working stiff delivering his coconuts. You know, like when you order coconuts for delivery, and they’re delivered by a guy carrying them on a yoke, like coconut delivery guys have done for a thousand years Someone has to deliver the coconuts, right?
As he passes the group, he makes some friendly chit-chat, like “where are you going?” He points out the way to the local tourist site. Just in passing. He might also help the tourists cross the crazy Saigon traffic. Just a harmless guy, living his life, delivering coconuts.
Then he starts to interact with the group. Usually he points at the man in the group, and makes the muscle gesture, like: “wow, you look strong!” And then offers to let the tourist carry his coconuts.
And of course he takes Coconut Guy up on his offer. Of course he would! What a great Vietnam experience! They’ll never believe this back home! I carried coconuts!
Hurry, honey, get a photo, he says. And look at that, Coconut Guy is posing for my photo! This is great!
Then, after the charming photo opp, Coconut Guy takes back his coconuts, and goes on his merry way. Bye-bye, tourists, have a great day! Enjoy your vacation is Vietnam!
Then, as an afterthought, he turns around, reaches into his cooler, and pulls out a coconut. Oh, by the way, he says, would you like a coconut? No pressure, you don’t have to buy, but they’re cheap, it’s a hot day, they are cold and refreshing, and besides, it’s another Vietnam experience for you!
And of course most of the time, the tourists take him up on his offer.
This is where Coconut Guy wanders into morally fuzzy territory. You see, coconuts are really cheap in Vietnam. In fact, this year the crop is so plentiful that the price of coconuts has fallen to almost nothing. Sure, Coconut Guy shaves the husk down to carry-size, and sure, he chills them, and even supplies a straw to make it easy for the tourists to enjoy. Still, he’s paying a max of 25 cents for a coconut, and he’s getting anywhere from $2-$10 from each tourist. One of my friends at post said that her brother paid $25 for a coconut (she really let him have it when he told her that).
But Coconut Guy isn’t just selling coconuts. He’s selling the Coconut Guy experience. The tourists seem to enjoy it.
No one walks away feeling cheated, and they actually get a Vietnam Moment. Of course, it isn’t a unique Vietnam Moment. The scene is repeated over and over, every day, following the same script, with the same outcome.
As hustles go, this one is pretty harmless. Rich tourists pay way more than they should for a coconut, which keeps Coconut Guy employed. The tourists can afford to pay what they’re paying. The coconuts are fresh and perfectly good. Coconut Guy isn’t lying to anyone, everyone is free to walk away at any time. Some do, but enough people buy coconuts that there are more and more Coconut Guys on the streets.
And lately, Coconut Guy has taken on a sidekick with this own shtick. But Shoeshine Guy is another story for another day.