Zim businesses must up their game

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

WHETHER we are business moguls who operate large multi billion-dollar conglomerates – or a sole trader running a tuckshop by the street corner in what may be referred to as a “side hustle” — fundamental principles should apply in each circumstance.

There is no substitute for good quality and high standards in the goods and services we provide.

As more and more Zimbabweans are pushed into entrepreneurship — whether in fulfilment of a childhood passion, or due to the economic hardships faced in a country with scant employment opportunities and salaries that fall far below the poverty datum line — we find a significant number of us now having to venture into one form of business enterprise or another.

I for one, offer editing services for those desiring to publish their books or any other material.

Nevertheless, we all find ourselves with the huge task of how to make our ventures work and succeed  in an environment where competition is becoming stiffer, and the target market space steadily shrinking as more players come on board.

Of course, with the world also contracting into a “global village”, thanks to more efficient communication technologies —headlined by the internet — our markets are no longer restricted by geographical boundaries and we find ourselves providing our goods and services to people thousands of kilometres away.

The challenge becomes — how do we not only prevent ourselves from sinking in this deluge of competition and actually thrive?

It, then, becomes quite disturbing when I come across our local businesses appearing to rely more on the “Buy Zimbabwe” slogan —rather than focusing on producing goods and services that can give their rivals a run for their money.

No serious entrepreneur can honestly expect to succeed solely on patriotic fervour — which makes them hope and believe that they will attract customers based on the fact that they are chanting a slogan such as “Buy Zimbabwe”.

Surely, in offering my editing services — it would be seriously flawed and quite uninventive for me to hope for people to promote me simply because of my nationality — especially, as some patriotic being.

Maybe, that is why I have always had a problem with the notion of affirmative action — as I am of the firm conviction that anyone worth his or her salt should be given an opportunity based on their abilities, rather than race, gender, religion or nationality.

As such, I should be able to compete with the best editors around the world on an equal footing – if I want to be taken seriously as someone who writers around the world would want to give their work.

If I do not meet the grade, this should push me to learn and up my skills so as to improve the standard and quality of my products — and, not expect to be supported merely because I am Zimbabwean, or black or someone needing the financial assistance.

Patriotism, race, gender, religion or even sympathy should never and can never be a business strategy.

We urgently need to see this mindset inculcated in our entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe.

“Buy Zimbabwe” is a very noble initiative, which also engenders pride in our own locally-produced goods and services — since there is a real challenge in many believing that foreign products are always better — leading to the outright disregard of anything labelled “Made in Zimbabwe”. Nevertheless, that should not end with just slogans and mantras.

It needs to be translated into the provision of local products that are actually of a high standard and good quality — on which customers are prepared to fork out their hard-earned money. Furthermore, it is never enough merely claiming that local goods and services are cheaper than imports.

This approach may work with competing goods and services of relatively good quality because customers scratch their heads as to which to buy because all would be of very high standards.

Yet, this thinking means nothing when the choice is between a product that the customer is satisfied with and gives them value for money and another that will soon leave them thoroughly disappointed.

It, therefore, goes without saying that, if the former is more expensive and possibly imported from another country — a savvy customer will go for it — as opposed to the cheaper, and locally made, but poor quality alternative.

That is the dilemma we find ourselves in Zimbabwe.

With the seemingly unending plethora of locally-produced sub-standard goods and services on the market — I often wonder how come we have so many so-called wealthy individuals?

Admittedly, some of these wealthy beings never appear to engage in any meaningful enterprises, thereby bringing into question their source of wealth, but we have those whom we know as entrepreneurs, whose business interests are there for all to see.

Why then do they prefer to jump into opulent lifestyles — seeking to be seen with the latest posh cars, and building awe-inspiring mansions — yet, never bothering to reinvest in their companies, so as to improve the quality of their products?

What is the point of expecting the business to flourish — yet, being totally uninterested in providing goods and services that satisfy? Why cut corners instead of pouring resources into state-of-the-art equipment, and offering salaries that attract the best skills? Why be so interested only in being seen as a “successful businessperson”?

That is why I do not buy all these stories about our local companies failing to provide good quality and high standard products that can compete with what is being offered by foreign markets.

If the economic environment in Zimbabwe is not conducive for the local businesses to thrive — where then are the owners and directors of these businesses acquiring their immense wealth from?

It is actually shocking reading some of these entrepreneurs’ names making it onto lists of the richest people — yet failing to ensure that their goods and services were of the utmost world-class standards and quality.

In fact, most of our large corporates still record phenomenal profits in their annual financial reports, so there is really no justification for all this moaning by Zimbabwean entrepreneurs. They simply must up their game and provide value to their customers.

Being shielded by protectionist laws and policies can only work for a short while — but, in the long run, our local companies will remain weaklings that are vulnerable in the face of any regional or global competition.

This is exactly why there was such an outcry when the government removed duty on imported basic commodities this year, after the phenomenal freefall of the local currency against the greenback, and subsequent skyrocketing of largely locally-produced goods and services.

Our local entrepreneurs need to take heed of the fact that they need to plough back their wealth into building sustainable businesses, as opposed to a desire to live a lavish lifestyle.

The “good life” will inevitably follow later. This continued reliance on feelings of patriotism as a way to get customers is not only myopic, but unsustainable. Anyone who calls himself or herself a businessperson, and expects to succeed purely on the “Buy Zimbabwe” mantra is not really an entrepreneur.

In fact, enriching oneself by providing shoddy and substandard products and services is nothing short of stealing from one’s customers.

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