SMEDI PLATFORMS ARE VERY EFFICIENT IN INFORMATION DISSEMINATION AND ENGAGING WITH POTENTIAL CLIENTS
Entrepreneur and Founder of Roma E-Botik
Zale Nyirenda Kamanga, Grew up in Limbe-Blantyre where she did her primary and Secondary school. She lived in South Africa for some years where the online business idea was hatched in 2015. Being a first born and growing up in a low income household, she had to support her mother in running small income generating activities such as selling second hand clothes, mandasi and Frizzes.
Zale is an entrepreneur and founder of one of Malawi’s leading online men’s suits shop called Roma Menz E-botik. Roma Menz E-botik is a subsidiary of Roma Investment. Zale Nyasato, as she is fondly called by her friends, engineered the development and growth of the business from branding, communication, marketing and advertising. She also acknowledges the crucial role her family played in the early days of the business. Her family has been a great support system in facilitating sales and deliveries to set the online business on a right footing.
Living in a foreign land, South Africa, with no work and business permit Zale had challenges in securing employment, let alone running any business legally. Frustration arising from her perpetual unemployment pushed her to look for viable opportunities back home in Malawi. She did some research on market trends in Malawi and identified a market gap in the men's apparel segment, especially suits. There was a short supply of quality suits in Malawi and Zale was at an advantage to engage, in person, with South African suppliers to buy quality suits at good prices and sell online. With transportation and other logistics costs out of the equation, she could then offer the Malawian market quality suits at very competitive prices. The online business platform provided a solution to the challenges she was facing and permitted her to operate a business without having to acquire a business permit first.
With limited capital, the business started with just 3 real suits and a hundred pictures of different suits that she took from different shops and others that she downloaded from the internet. She posted the pictures to her groups on Facebook and eventually created a business page. The business is now operated from Area 25 Sector 3, Lilongwe servicing both online and walk in customers.
Imported men's suits by Roma E-Botik
What started as a taking orders, phone gallery suit business with just 3 actual suits and some pictures that were downloaded from the internet eight years ago, has grown into a well-established online and physical men’s suits boutique with 100s of suits in stock. Roma E-botik has gained financial independence and has over 5000 engaged fans and followers on social media. It has also developed a wide network of international suit suppliers in South Africa, China and Turkey and most importantly, a clientele base all over Malawi. https://www.facebook.com/romaebotik/.
It has gained experience in online shopping, marketing and advertising and offers social media/digital marketing training to both aspiring entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs that want to venture into online business, offering useful tips on how to source goods across borders. Roma Ebotik presently employs 3 permanent staff and 12 part time workers in the Sales, Advertising and Delivery department.
“The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Institute (SMEDI) has played a crucial role in facilitating the formalization of Roma Investment and other processes that position the business for better access to business opportunities and loan facilities with major lending institutions”, says Zale. “SMEDI virtual business trainings offer mentorship and remote support which are well aligned with my busy schedule and fits in well with current modern online business models. It has provided a platform for advertising and marketing Roma E-Botik products. SMEDI platforms are very efficient in information dissemination and engaging with potential clients.”
Roma Investment faces challenges such as limited capital to implement business plans according to the business goals and vision. Covid - 19 effects have also stirred up more economic challenges for the business as some suppliers shut have down, shipping schedules both on sea and air have been disturbed, and prices have gone up. Shutting down of in-country events such as weddings and borders due to covid-19 preventive measures have affected business operations and created some losses. Furthermore, the current economic state in Malawi has created a scarcity of forex, delaying payment transactions and goods delivery to the shop and clients.
Online trading is open to uncertainty, fraud and scam. If not well managed, one may end up losing goods in transit and scammers on social media. "I twice lost over a million kwacha's worth of goods in transit from South Africa", says Zale. Exorbitant shipping and clearing tariffs weigh heavily on small scale businesses like Roma resulting in higher pricing and slow sales. Authenticity - trust issues with potential buyers from distant districts due to some fake suppliers on the market is another challenge for an online business. Competition is also a challenge – many businesses are now joining the suit industry including Chinese retailers. The Chinese sell at lower prices because they have an added advantage of ordering in bulk and goods coming from their country of origin.
Zale has this to say to both potential and existing entrepreneurs:
• Commit your plans to God and he will direct you.
• Shortcuts to success are in a long run unsustainable and costly- work hard and smart.
• Be adaptive and flexible in any situational changes, whether personal or business-related.
• Money management skills, budgeting, saving and reinvestment are crucial in building a sustainable business.
• It is important to formalize one’s business.
• Have good customer relations.
• Follow one’s passion and continuously acquiring new skills and knowledge.
• Young people and graduates should embrace entrepreneurship instead of waiting to be employed.
Zale is, in addition to being an entrepreneur, a Counselor, an Executive Director for Ufulu Groups, a not for profit organization working with under-resourced families in the outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi offering vocational and business skills. She holds a bachelor's degree in social sciences from the University of South Africa in which she majored in Development studies and Economics. Her vision is to own a suit production company within Malawi and become a major men's suit supplier at both retail and wholesale.