improve your sales – lessons from saalongo mukiibi, the sugar cane guy

LAST Saturday after a brief discussion about urban poverty and the seeming hopeless of many of our very numerous youth in this country, I drove past Bugolobi and spotted my sugar cane guy there back at his station. I had noticed on some days over the last couple of weeks that he was not always at this point, and twice I had stopped to ask why but the boda men at the stage never seemed to know or care.
I had lost interest in him as a supplier a while back because he is located at a very busy spot right in front of the market where the parking is tight or scarce, and many a time one can’t catch his attention quickly enough to avoid road rage from other users whose interest in roadside sugar cane doesn’t match mine.
At any rate, his sugar cane is much more expensive than other suppliers I have found elsewhere, even though his product (the green stems called something like ‘gowa’) is superior to most other thin stems, being more fleshy and therefore juicy.
This Saturday the traffic was a little light so I took the opportunity to address a few irritations he presents, and as I was holding the seminar with him I realized that some boda men and one or two muchomo grillers (those that do sausages and chicken) were keenly eavesdropping. What I was telling the chap was useful to them as well – and, it would turn out, to anyone doing any sort of business.
First of all, he had a habit of facing the market rather than the road, so he constantly has his back to the considerable traffic going up into Bugolobi. Explaining to him that his location was prime for retail, I told him to re-position himself so he faced the traffic directly. That way, he would make eye contact with potential and actual customers and sell much more; even without making a sale, it would be easier for him to market his product if he smiled at all the cars driving slowly past, and gestured to them politely to try out his product.
But having done that, I told him, he needed to clean up his appearance. Like most of the roadside sugar cane guys who normally sell the stuff off of the back of a bicycle or wheelbarrow, his clothes were as filthy as the sugar cane itself. He, individually, was worse than most as his style of clothing was urban grunge – torn jeans, wrinkled clothing and basically dirty and messy, all the way through to his unkempt hair.
This, I told him, would not attract more customers especially if he judged them by the vehicles they drove and their concerns of the hygiene involved in his ‘processed’ product. One reason he stood facing away from the road was he was busy peeling and chopping up sugar cane into bits to put into buveera for those who wanted it already peeled – he didn’t have gloves but at least he had covered his hands with buveera while doing so, because sugar cane is so white you can’t hide grime even though bacteria is invisible.
We stood there and counted the Range Rovers, Land Cruisers and Mercedes Benzes going by and he agreed that those were certainly potential high value customers but they would be unlikely to hold a conversation with him, let alone allow him to lean against their vehicles if he were so shabbily turned out.
When I pointed to one of the muchomo guys and explained that the white coats they wore were to project the hygiene expectations that would give a customer comfort that they wouldn’t fall ill from eating that roadside meat, they all nodded.
Then, I told the fellow, get a piece of cardboard and neatly but clearly write the price of the sugar cane then prop it up so that everybody driving by can see it – display pricing will make some of these potential customers stop and think, “Hey! I can afford that quite easily…” and even if they don’t stop to buy right then, they can send a maid running down the road after they get home.
In fact, we agreed, even the sugar cane itself should be propped up in a manner that makes it call out to the potential customer, rather than laid out on the road out of sight. Actually, the people driving past get to see more of the sugar cane peelings than the sugar cane itself, making that spot appear to be a garbage collection point rather than a sugar cane point of sale.
He nodded as more of the boda men came closer and worked their auricles harder.
Even better, I suggested humbly, how about adding your name to that piece of cardboard so you brand your sugarcane and make it distinct from all the others in the village, division or district?
He smiled. His name is Mukiibi Saalongo.
Fantastic! I exclaimed; use Saalongo rather than Mukiibi, so that customers believe that they are helping to support the livelihood of a man who is looking after a couple of twins – in fact, thinking about it now I should go back and tell him to get involved the next time there is a Twins Festival organized by The New Vision, as that would be the perfect marketing opportunity for him and his products.
At this point in our seminar, though, I couldn’t resist pointing out that his current appearance made one worry that all the money he receives goes straight into habits that keep law enforcement officials busy at night and very early in the morning.
He laughed, but agreed with the opinion – also because a couple of boda chaps were also chuckling on the fringes of our roadside workshop.
And then he expressed his thanks and introduced a “But the problem is…” – Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) demands license fees that make it difficult for him to operate. This is a serious problem for these fellows, and keeps them ready to up and disappear at the sight of the KCCA enforcement colours turning a corner.
But I wasn’t done yet, and detailed to him how if he faced the road and did all the above he could easily set up a sugar cane delivery system right into the homes of those 1,200 apartments in Bugolobi and more than 500 residents living there – using his bicycle.
And, if it all worked out well then he would increase sales exponentially (I did not use this very word with Saalongo Mukiibi) and sell much more than the 40 sugar canes he ferries on his bicycle every day.
I think.
We’ll find out when we do a review – in about a month’s time.

is #Uganda the most entrepreneurial country in the world? we can do much more…

This article was also published by the people at the Competitiveness & Enterprise Development Programme here:
UGANDA being the world’s most entrepreneurial country is NOT a myth; the most recent research cited for this is the B2B Marketplace Approved Index, which looked at 73 countries and the proportion of adults there who have started a business.
We (Uganda) scored 28% of adults who had done so or co-owned a business – almost twice as many as those in the country that came second (Thailand with 16.7%).
To be honest, we all know that if our SMEs (Small and Medium sized Enterprises) were more organised we would rank even higher in such studies, but more importantly we would be doing much, much better economically.
In private I frequently raise this fantasy in my mind of every single Rolex Stand on the side of every road in Uganda registering as a business entity, with a Board of Directors, Share Capital, a Management Team and a bank account of sorts (even Mobile Money).
Just imagine how far that fantasy could go: perhaps one day a group of our better-healed Ugandans could get into an investment arrangement that would buy into or buy up all these SMEs and create a national equivalent of KFC or McDonald’s, but of Rolexes – like ‘RolexUG’.
Today, a venture like the RolexUG food chain could easily find itself cornering the Rolex market in many amazing ways, and possibly open up branches in the United States and Japan and Russia, selling shares on the stock market and creating a worldwide revolution even bigger than Russia’s blini (which is now street food in London…)
Sadly, our SMEs mostly prefer to operate as ‘the informal sector’, mostly because of a traditional fear of regulation and the costs that come with it. Most of us are afraid that registration means paying more taxes and other statutory obligations, or facing more scrutiny from authorities.
For instance, those Rolex stands would find themselves having to file more paperwork – which would mean many changes to their current business structure that would be a little discomfiting, since we rarely see them with reams of paper or computers and other such paraphernalia normally associated with ‘office’.
Plus, they would find themselves having to report more to offices dealing with things like public health, environment, and so on and so forth. Their employees would now start talking about NSSF and Pay As You Earn…the complications are daunting.
But if we teach our entrepreneurs that the benefits outweigh those complications, and develop an environment that makes it easier (not easy – nothing good ever comes from things being easy), then perhaps we will reap more from this officialdom.
That officialdom is much less daunting these days, with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) on hand.
In the past, we struggled to get companies registered and off the ground, and many times found the idea of the companies registry daunting; whereas now we work with the Services Bureau as just that – a Services Bureau.
Registered businesses, for instance, will attract funding easier than loose, informal arrangements do. Even that Rolex stand would make for a good investment, but only if the investor – be it a massive global bank or just the uncle of Sula the Rolex Guy – would be more comfortable if Sula had an official business under which agreements would be signed and guarantees placed.
Entrepreneurship support funding also goes easier to organised business, than to informal, mobile stands. Registration, for instance, gives you a presence that is reliable and easy to find – which is essential when anyone’s giving you money; so essential that some people aren’t comfortable buying newspapers at traffic lights in case they turn green and your newspaper guy goes in the opposite direction before giving you back your change…
Add more benefits to capital injection – sales, for instance, will increase organically to a point that makes sense of business registration and the officialdom that comes with it.
Ideally (key word) an SME that enters the formal sector (business registration being the entry point) opens the doors to such benefits as research and development and scientific marketing.
Sticking to the Rolex stands, if we had clear visibility as a nation of how many Rolex stands exist and are operational, perhaps we would do research into and develop a certain type of healthy and resource-saving cooking oil or frying pan to support this business. Or maybe we would come up with a better design for the Rolex stand, like the guys at Musana Carts have done. The opportunities are limitless.
And those opportunities stretch to marketing as well – we have an entire sector of marketing researchers and creatives out there who are focussed on the ‘Big Guys’ simply because that’s who they can find out there, engage with, and create concepts for that they can get paid to execute.
I can see, in my fantasy, a few marketing professionals applying themselves to concepts for the Rolex stand when they realise exactly how many of them are potential clients who can apply for external funding support to pay for these concepts with an eye on the global market as customers.
Speaking of that global market, sympathise with our Export Promotion Board and how hard their work is right now simply because too many SMEs are not registered as businesses. If they had this well-built directory of all SMEs then they would, perhaps, find or develop foreign markets easier for us.
These registered businesses would also find it easier to engage both the government and their other stakeholder groups, because they would exist officially as entities with identities, locations and strength of presence.
And it is that engagement that advises and develops government policy such that it supports the SME – creating that very environment that makes business registration make sense for an SME.
It’s a fantasy, but dreams could come true.

let’s all become venture capitalists in our small ways

LAST week a young man called Gimei Nagimesi shared an amusing tale that tickled my hopes.

This young man is the type who always stays in the background doing groundbreaking things. I know, for instance, that he was instrumental in the creation of the ‘Golola Moses’ brand and all those statements around ripping pages out of Facebook and hanging clothes on telephone lines.

His story last week had far less of a celebrity factor. He confessed that he is the type of person who can’t walk past a volleyball court, and so during a health run along the northern by-pass one day he got stuck playing his favourite game.

Before long he was a permanent fixture on that court and being the only urban professional on the court, Gimei found himself buying rounds of drinking water and kabalagala every so often from the cycling vendors that went by the court at a certain hour every evening. It became obvious that this event was a highlight of the day and Gimei suspected that some of them turned up to play purely for that kabalagala break.

Total cost of feeding the entire court per day? Less than ten thousand shillings (Ushs10,000).

He then began to look into the other permanent fixtures on court, and as he was doing so, one of them caught his attention for being keen and earnest.

The young man in question opened up to Gimei and told him he was generally broke but played every day to expose himself to opportunities. He then proposed that Gimei funds him with Ushs1.4million so he could get going.

What’s the business?

“Counter Books.”

From, NOT Uganda

Gimei found the figure intriguing, and the response even more so, and probed further till the young man outlined his plan.

Where he lives, in the swamps somewhere off the northern by-pass, there are many school-going children who use each buy a book at the start of each school term. Annoyingly, the nearest source of stationary is somewhere in Ntinda, which involves some kilometres of walking.

The young man therefore wanted to make Counter Books and sell them to the many schoolchildren in his neighbourhood, and believed a profit could be made.

Gimei gave it a brief thought and figured that it made sense. Besides, to him Ushs1.4million was not such a massive amount of money so…he invested.

The young man took up the cash and embarked on the job with gusto NOT just buying books to re-sell, but buying reams of paper, glue, hard covers, and other materials; then spending hours making Counter Books himself, which he then sold out of his home.

Profit? Ushs500,000 in total.

Gimei was nonplussed when the young fellow showed up out of the swamps to hand over his 50% of the profits, a few weeks later. They’ve continued the cycle, unless some bureaucracy steps up to investigate, in which case it ended.

But not before another young fellow approached him and asked, in Luganda, whether if ‘someone’ funded him (this new young fellow) he couldn’t set up a kaveera water business of his own right there at the court for the players, so that they buy from him instead of buying from the cyclist going past.

Gimei now finds himself to be a venture capitalist of sorts, and the experience is enjoyably uplifting. defines a Venture Capitalist as “an investor who either provides capital to startup ventures or supports small companies that wish to expand but do not have access to equities markets.”

In developed economies venture capitalists are a serious factor of economic growth, because they are willing to invest in these small ventures that formal financing doesn’t trust or finds awkward.

In the United States, companies like Intel, Fedex, Apple, Google, and Microsoft started off with venture capital funding, and are now global giants. Their ideas, when they kicked off, seemed crazy or wild or simply untenable because they were different from what leading organisations like banks and financial analysts generally knew.

No bank or government agency would fund Gimei’s young Counter Book manufacturing friend, for instance, but Gimei now has the fellow earning a respectable income, while earning a profit of his own, and possibly also thinking about going to other parts of the swamp to do the same and multiply his earnings.

Besides just financing, though, venture capitalists also provide mentorship – which is probably the most important element in entrepreneurship, and what the boys at the volleyball court take from Gimei more significantly than kabalagala. See, anybody can get financing, in a manner of speaking, but the attitude and aptitude to run an enterprise are a different matter altogether.

Plus, venture capitalist funded companies and enterprises tend to introduce new solutions that regular businesses wouldn’t dare touch. That’s why we more of us use Apple products than Texas Instruments (I had a TI calculator back in the 1980s that was all the rage then!)

Venture capitalists also experience major losses when their picks fail, but these investors are typically wealthy enough that they can afford to take the risks associated with funding young, unproven companies that appear to have a great idea and a great management team – as Gimei would have exhibited if the young man hadn’t turned a neat profit.

The problem of youth unemployment keeps getting talked about with reference to government intervention and ‘support’, yet we all have the opportunity to make some market corrections and build the economy by being venture capitalists in some small way.

If we had as many entrepreneurship meetings as we do wedding, graduation and funeral fund raising meetings, I am certain things would be different. If we had gatherings at which we threw around entrepreneurship advice and funding rather than suggestions of which caterer to procure or what colour the cake should be, just imagine how many more jobs would be created in this economy.

We probably collect a hundred million shillings weekly for weddings, funerals and graduation parties, which certainly supports a certain segment of the economy, but Gimei’s story made me think more of what could happen if we collected that money to fund ventures instead.

A couple of Stanford University scholars did a study on the impact of venture capitalists on the US economy and found it to be large. Between 1979 and 2013, more than 2,600 venture capital-backed companies went public (onto the stock exchange there).

Compare that to Uganda where the Uganda Securities Exchange holds eight (8) companies – if you and I funded up a few earnest, hungry young fellows, maybe our companies might join the lonely eight on the Stock Exchange one day?

two journeys, one path – different destinations

TAKING a walk through Mutungo for health reasons – exercise, I must declare – I found myself at the top of a road I had ignored countless times before, and ventured down its lead.
The short walk was uneventful besides the number of people I had to prompt into responding with “Good evening!” as I walked past grey and brown walls shielding what appeared to be regular residential houses with regular grass gardens.
Then, quite suddenly, the grey and brown was broken by a burst of thick shrubbery. I believe my breathing changed before my mind had fully taken in what my eyes were seeing. The thick hedge ran for a regular distance but I slowed down my paces to take it all in, and to peer through it out of curiosity.
There was much more behind it than just grass and a house; the flowers and shrubs were not rare and in some cases not in bloom, but it was interesting to observe. So interesting, actually, that when I got to the gate and found it was wide open I took that as an invite.
Inside, the neat garden exceeded my expectations, as it came with many pots and plants,img_20160121_170250.jpg all of them obviously made (the pots) and nurtured (the plants) within the perimeter fencing. The house was obviously old, probably built when my grandparents were youths, but it was well kept. Against the front of the house, someone had carefully fashioned an archway of flowering shrubs that arrested my attention for a while before I called out, “Koodi?”
There was a stirring in the sitting room and a young man peeped out of the window to return my greeting and inform me that the person behind the pots and plants was probably in the smaller house at the back – and he left his television set on to pop out and check.
The fellow, who this young man identified as his cousin Joe of Jowy Creations, was indeed away but could be found on Facebook.
A few days later I returned, this time deliberately, to view the garden again and try to meet this Joe of Jowy Creations.
Again, the gardens were still but there was sound in the sitting room. This time I didn’t have to call out before the very same young man, possibly wearing the very same vest, stood up from his television viewing position.
His cousin was in, this time, and came out to meet me though I first summoned the TV watching youth to interrogate him a little bit. Top on my mind was the question: Had he been watching television non-stop since the last time I had been, a few days ago?
He laughed and said he hadn’t. He was on holiday, from his university course studying “IT”, and was therefore chilling. Did he have a laptop or something else to occupy his time? He chuckled a bit but became irritated at my lugezi gezi, but I made it clear to him that I had an endless supply of it and would return to him after meeting his cousin properly.
img_20160121_170421.jpgHis cousin, Daniel Joe Semakadde, listened quietly to the exchange while behind him I noticed the garage held about fifty concrete pots in formation which hadn’t been there the last time I was.
He then took me round the garden to see his plant creations, his pottery and even
ironmongery! This was their grandparents’ home, and they now live there with a sectionimg_20160121_165903.jpg of the family.
Semakadde, a graduate of Food, Science and Technology, took to interior design as a child and made his first sale at the age of fourteen by putting together some dried twigs, colouring and arranging them in a pot. He still went through school dutifully, taking a difficult professional course, but during that time img_20160121_170446.jpgtaught himself how to make pots, weld metal, grow plants and design art pieces.
He has lived off that income very comfortably ever since.
As he spoke, his cousin was back at the television, and I could not understand how the fellow had let me leave the first time without trying to sell me any of the Jowy Creations. So I cut short the visit and called the young man out of the house for some more lugezi gezi.
To begin with, he had only Ushs15,000 to his name at that point, and confessed that he didn’t know enough about pottery and plants to earn any money from me doing it.
Long story cut short, we made arrangements for his cousin to train him for the remainder of his holiday, and I offered to ease the process by paying for his transport from the television set to the garden for the training course.
Today marks the end of Week One, and I am praying I don’t find him in front of a television. I also need someone to give me lessons in understanding how these two young fellows can grow up in the very same home and take such different paths in life – one to wealth and success through sweat and hard work, and the other likely heading to a despondent declaration of a lack of opportunities.

i definitely need NAADS, or operation wealth creation

I LIKE mangoes. I spend a lot of money on mangoes. A few years ago, after we had moved into our new place and were basking in the achievement, a pal called Edgar Byama dropped by one weekend and gave us a couple of fruit tree seedlings.

My joy at receiving them fuelled my planting efforts and I tended the trees carefully over the first year until I spotted a couple of mangoes popping out as fruit.

My excitement was kept in check by the anticipation of getting to slice into them when they became ripe one day, and I made daily pilgrimages to the tree to check on the literal fruits of my labour.

Until one day when even from a distance I could tell that something was not right. My chest tightened as I got to the tree and was forced to accept the empty truth.

A quick investigation resulted in a delayed but dumbfounded confession from an askari who was astonished that I could put so much energy into establishing where three or so mangoes had gone.

The wretched fellow must have been switching glances from my angry face to the house and car, and back again, thinking that the value of those mangoes surely was not commensurate to the amount of feeling my eyes bore into his. But I was unsympathetic, and explained to him that it was the principle of the thing – even though I did not mention the amount of food I happily plied him with daily.

It didn’t make sense to him and his apologies were certainly not as profuse as the mangoes had probably been juicy, but I accepted them anyway, in the belief that it would be a matter of weeks till I had replacements naturally sent my way (in the askari and the mango sense, both).

I was wrong.

It took more than another year or so – not to get the askari changed, that happened quicker; with the mangoes, eventually the flowers showed up again and I followed the life cycle of the fruit keenly until, a few weeks ago, I noticed a healthy offering developing on the same healthy tree.

My excitement levels shot up again, and I took the current askari through a quick module on ethics at work and respecting other people’s property, then watched the fruit grow. After a couple of weeks, I found myself unable to control my excitement when they reddened and increased in size.

Such was my loss of self-control that I took photographs and sent them round with pride, and purred a bit when friends sent back congratulatory comments.

The fruits of my ‘labour’

For ten minutes.

When some pals began asking for guidance so they could also procure mango seedlings in order to venture into some level of “farming” as well, I began to feel how foolish I have actually been all along.

Five mangoes? Maybe ten, these few years past? Right here a few metres from where my bed stands?

Perhaps that askari I gave a rough time had left to plant a couple of dozen mango trees of his own and was that very day filling up sacks to send to the market, while I was here proudly exhibiting my five mangoes using a smartphone whose value at purchase could have funded a small but sizeable mango farm complete with cost of land!

I realised, that day, that I need NAADS. I am ill-educated and ignorant. A fool, growing fruit as a past time instead of seriously investing in farming so that I spend less cash on the fruits themselves. NAADS, or Operation Wealth Creation, should be aimed at the likes of me, and other city dwellers wasting resources instead of investing them sensibly into long-term, value-addition-based agricultural ventures.