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How to do business in Bulawayo

Each city has its own distinct brands, lifestyle and culture. Although both are capitals in the same country, Harare and Bulawayo carry different vibes and it is a failure to understand this, that has led to some businesses failing. Contrary to taking the generic approach to marketing, this article will focus on a few specific items that could drastically increase your success by teaching you how to do business in Bulawayo.

Before I get into the technical aspects of marketing your products, services or business, it is important to understand the character of Bulawayo as a city. This will then help you to tailor your marketing and set you apart from the rest. The first thing to note, is that Bulawayo has been hurt, so now she’s sceptical when new things happen. She has withdrawn into her shell, she keeps to herself but secretly hopes that someday a prince in shining Armani will come and rescue her. She meets potential suitors everyday, they promise her the world but till today nothing seems to have changed. As a result of her humble nature and laid back attitude, even the rich boys find it hard to spend on her. She does come to life once in a while. She picks herself up and tries to shine. She is well groomed, neatly kept, we’ve heard how smoking (pun intended) hot she was and we know the potential that she has. Pardon the imagery.

The second thing to note is that despite being a metropolitan city, Bulawayo is informally organized into clusters or small societies that are actively behind all related activities in their respective fields. The majority of the population does not seem to “participate” and hence we end up with a few individuals burdened with building the city’s culture. You will find that there is a hip hop community, a car racing community, an arts and culture community, the aspiring youthful entrepreneurs, the affluent- mainly white- community and a lot of other such small groups. These all operate independently and this failure to create synergies with other groups stifles potential and limits activity. So, say you attend one function within those small groups. After attending 3 or so similar functions you will soon realise that it’s basically the same faces, simply shifting roles and positions. They all are limited by resources and hence, even when they plan their activities, the marketing mainly reaches a small segment of Bulawayo’s diverse population.

The third thing to note, is that being the diva she is, Bulawayo demands excellence. She will not let her sons and daughters get away with a half baked product, service or an imitation. The truth is that we are generally hard on our own. This is in reference to local artists, products and events. This poses a challenge for the aspiring entrepreneur as they struggle to launch a product. It will be compared to its industry peers, if not global leaders and will not escape the highest levels of scrutiny. So you will hear condescending statements like “ooh, lapha bazama ukwenza njenge [insert name of South African brand here]”. In comparison, Harare on the other hand is more accommodative. So you will hear them playing local music in all corners of the city, you will see them wearing local brands, eating out at that new spot or totally buying out new local products from the shelves, (even those from Bulawayo) regardless of the quality standards.

With that having been said, let us now get into how you can increase your effectiveness and successfully do business in Bulawayo.

Your Product

Before launching your product or service make sure that it is solid and meets your potential customers’ needs. Do your research, ensure that the quality is par excellence. Study your competition and ensure that you present your offering professionally and with class. Remember that Bulawayo demands excellence and thus you will not be spared if your product is found wanting. Also remember that Bulawayo has been hurt and there are some sensitive issues to avoid. Involve her in the process or acknowledge her preferences. A good example is Isitayitayi the cleaning material manufacturer. When expanding to the region they customized their brand to suit these needs. It is important to avoid spelling or grammatical areas in this regard. You might not be forgiven for writing “avantu vonke” on your labels.

Let your price reflect the value

As stated earlier, Bulawayo generally isn’t a flashy city so when setting your prices make sure that they reflect the value that the customers will get. Avoid the temptation of pricing your products too low, as this might present them as being poor quality or flawed. The same goes for pricing your products too high. Remember, we also have relatives in Harare and South Africa who can get us that very same item from Mr Price for half the price you are selling it at. Once we realise you are ripping us off, you give us no option but the reflex of simply walking past your shop next time. So be cautious and price your products at the market price provided it still gives you a profit. How will you know the market price??? Talk to us.

Go all out in promoting your product, service or brand

Take yourself seriously and we will too. If you come across as someone “ozama istart” then it will definitely work against you as we will gravitate towards the more established brands that we have come to trust. So be unapologetic in your approach and marketing, be aggressive in your advertising, persistent in your call to action and unwavering in your dedication to your cause. This includes partnering with local personalities, radio stations and organisations. Most of the stations charge an arm and a leg when it comes to advertising, so be strategic and go for product placement, shout outs and sponsored slots. These will generally cost you less. Do not be afraid to talk to the radio stations and presenters. Approach them with your ideas and provide them with some items to give away to their listeners or viewers. Build a social media following and do not be shy to ask people to like and share your product. In some instances, try offering free trials and coming up with incentives to lure customers.

Get yourself a great spot to do business in Bulawayo

Go hunting where the ducks are. This means positioning yourself where your intended audience can access you. If you’re targeting the average Joe, try imagining what their routine is, and where they hang out. If you’re pursuing a more affluent clientele let it also ring in your head that there are people who haven’t stepped downtown in years and they are happy being away from the chaos of scanias and touts. Do not also make the mistake of trying to target “everyone”. This weakens your strategy and sets you up for failure in the long run. Identify your niche and position yourself where they can access you, then communicate and let them know where you are.

Find the right people

I’m sure you are well aware of the basics in this area I.e. qualifications, expertise and so on. I will however go a step further and add the cultural background. Employ people who understand the city, respect the culture and have a positive attitude. So it might not be wise to put your grandmother’s aunt’s neighbour’s niece from ekhaya in that position. Depending on your target customers, take into account, issues such as language, dress, hygiene, discipline and tolerance. If most of your customers are executives who communicate in English, then employ someone who has a good command of the language and also understands the technical aspects of your business. If you get skimpily dressed girls to work for you, then also bear in mind that our wives might not allow us to “play” near you. The same goes for dodgy looking young men whose breaths wreak of alcohol and weed. The last thing you want is having your customers hide their valuables when your boys walk in to do renovations or fix the fridge.

Create a memorable customer or user experience

Let every moment and point of interaction that your customer has with your product or brand be a pleasant one. This begins with being found on the internet. It does you a disservice when I do a google search for your company and I can not find you, or when I do find you, there is just a Facebook link that you have forgotten about. Get a website and professional emails. Update this as well as your social media profiles regularly. Some businesses fail, not because there is no demand for their products but because they simply can not be found. Once that has been done, work on the signage that identifies your location. Tell me you’re 1,2km away from Old Khami road with sign. When I walk into your shop, smile and let me feel welcome. Don’t assume I’m there to steal and thus end up following me around. Let me navigate with ease but be near when I need to ask. Be polite. Don’t ignore me when I ask you questions about your products, even if my pockets don’t seem as fat. Go a step further and build partnerships with other organisations to help me enjoy your product even more. Work with local designers and decorators to give your events a unique feel, partner with that radio station to spread the word about your company and allow them to have their banners and a desk at your event. There is so much you can do and your imagination is the limit. The key however, is to make sure that these partnerships are mutually beneficial. So tap into those small communities that we mentioned earlier and see how each one can help you.

Look the part

You want people to treat you a certain way and how you look has a bearing on this. The same goes for your company. Dress it up in catchy banners and signs; accessorize it with beautiful business cards, company profiles and stationery; compliment it with a well designed uniform and lovely office layout. If your brand is about “fun” then let everything about you say fun. Bulawayo is generally a conservative city, but push the boundaries a bit. They might say “this one is crazy” but they will have noticed and will remember you. Be consistent in your branding and build trust with us by constantly and tastefully being all up in our face via newsfeed, events and any other platform.

In conclusion, one of the greatest secrets to success is persistence. Regardless how your faith in this city might have been crushed from past business ventures… Do not be afraid to try and do business in Bulawayo, we are here to help you each step of the way now. I hope that you have found this article on how to do business in Bulawayo very useful and will soon realise the success you envision. Let us know what you think in the comments below. If there are any other topics that you would like to read about, simply send us an email. I sincerely wish you happiness , health and wealth.

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