Gaulphine Josephine Nyirenda, the managing director of Maneno Enterprises, started out supplying mandazi (fritters) to PTC and Kandodo shops in the 1980s. She set up her bookshop through selling books from the boot of her car during her lunch and tea-break.
Today, through hard work, perseverance and determination, Nyirenda has set up Maneno Bookshop, which has two branches in Lilongwe and Mzuzu and employs 23 permanent workers as well as 16 seasonal workers. Paida Mpaso traces the journey of NyirendaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s life.
What has your secret to success been?
My secret is hard work. Being honest with my customers, honouring my bills, and knowing what customers needÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s are some of things I give attention to. Through this, though I started with the selling of mandazi, (fritters) I not only run a book shop; I also supply womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book clubs with reading material. I am also an agent for major UK academic publishing houses.
How did you move from selling mandazi to becoming a renowned bookseller in the country?
My journey started way back in the 1980s when I realised that, the income we were getting (from both my husbandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s salary and mine) was not enough. I started looking for means to supplement our pay cheques.
I was a teacher at the time and in addition to this, I got a loan from Small Enterprises Development Organisation of Malawi (Sedom) and started selling fritters. At first, I supplied these to PTC and Kandodo shops in Lilongwe.
Eventually, the business expanded and I started supplying shops in Blantyre too. The business did so well; I managed to repay my loan in time. After this, I acquired another loan, worth K25 000, from Indefund.
In 1989, after four years of selling fritters on retail, I openedÃ‚Â up a bakery called Maneno. I bought my first bakery equipment with the Indefund loan. With this machine, we made 48 loaves of bread in an hour. I later bought more machines, increasing production to 320 loaves per hour. Even though I had struck gold in the bakery business, I did not quit my teaching job. I still had a passion for education.
Is this how the bookshop was born?
Yes, it was. In 1988, I became an agent for Oxford University Press. I would sell Oxford dictionaries from the boot of my car to private schools during my break-time in order to supplement my income.
From there, I started receiving more orders and business picked up. Two years later, I decided to retire from teaching and focus on my growing business.
How exactly or why did you diversify into bookselling? Were you not afraid of the risk?
Business is all about taking risks and studying the needs of the market. By 1997, the baking industry in Malawi had grown so much that the market became stiffer; we had a lot more competition.
Despite this, I still continued to run two entities; bookselling and baking until in 2003 when I decided to solely focus on the bookselling business because the bakery business was no longer lucrative.
I then decided to officially diversify to bookselling. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hesitate in making the switch as I had seen that many schools were mushrooming all over the country, but only a few suppliers existed. I knew this would be my time to strike it big. I gave it a try and I was not disappointed.
In 1998, I opened a sales outlet in Lilongwe called Maneno Bookshop and later opened another one in Mzuzu. With time, I got contracts to supply books as well as laboratory equipment to Non Governmental Organisations.
Were there moments in your life when challenges were so high that you felt like giving up? How did you pull through?
Sourcing capital to start off my small scale business was a challenge. I got my first loan from Sedom, and I was able to repay it within the agreed time. However, when I wanted to get my second loan to grow my business further, Sedom refused to grant me the loan because I did not have collateral as a guarantee that I would repay it. I then tried my luck with Indefund who agreed to give me a loan on the agreement that I would use my baking machinery as collateral.
What qualities have helped you get this far?
My ability to think big and always look for untapped opportunities is what had led me to where I am today. Hard work and perseverance are also key. No matter how difficult keeping the business afloat might be, I always pushedÃ‚Â forwards because I have learnt that persistence and hard work pays off in one way or the other.
Honesty is another thing that I believed has helped me succeed. I am always honest with my customers and this is what has enabled me to build a strong client base over the years. Customers always come back because they know that they can rely on my service. Furthermore, given my 15 years teaching experience, I can better understand the products such as books and learning materials that I sell.
This enables me to offer superior customer service compared to my competition. Furthermore, every customer is treated as unique. I ensure that each customer is given customised superior service regardless of the size of their order. I am a very hands-on and I pay attention to detail.Ã‚Â Because of this, even though my business has grown, I am still in touch with its core and know exactly what is going on.
Tell me about Maneno Bookshop…
We sell teaching and learning materials to government and private schools. We do this through the shops and through tenders by consolidated NGOs and government departments which supply learning materials to government schools.
We have also published textbooks for forms 1 and 2 in mathematics, English and agriculture for the MSCE curriculum. We are agents for Mallory International Ltd, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press. Currently, we have two branches in Lilongwe and Mzuzu and there are about 23 permanent workers and 16 seasonal workers.
As a managing director, what do you do?
I am more involved in strategic running of the business; ensuring that we have a consistent supply of stock, sourcing of new orders and general administration of the business. I have to ensure that we meet all the tender requirements throughout the whole tender process. I also indulge in top level networking to attract more customers
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the pipe-lines for Maneno?
We plan to expand our outlets in the Northern and Southern regions in order to serve our customers better.
Have you won any awards, accolades?
I was awarded Ã¢â‚¬Å“Top Budding Woman EntrepreneurÃ¢â‚¬Â by Diversity Leaders in 2008.
Did you ever thought your business would grow this big?
I always knew that I was destined to do greater things, but didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t realise that I would be able to make a living out of something that I was passionate about; teaching and serving people.
Furthermore, the fact that I am able to contribute to the social and economical development of Malawi through the provision of teaching materials and this is one thing I am very proud of.
What kind of sacrifices have you put in your business?
When I was starting off, my family lived a very basic life, and could not afford certain things because every bit I got, I put back into Maneno.
Tell me a bit about your background?
I am the third born in a family of ten children. I did my primary school in Rumphi, Hewe. From 1967 to 1970, I attended Mzuzu Secondary School. I then got selected to University of Malawi, where I did a Diploma in education which I completed in 1974.
Since then, I have attained diplomas in entrepreneurship management and I have attended workshops on bookselling and publishing. In 1990-1991, I attained a diploma in business management through the Kenyan Institute of Management.
However, when I finished my studies, I taught at Henry Henderson Institute Secondary School (HHI), Likuni Girls, Lilongwe Girls just to mention a few.
How many children do you have?
I have six childrenÃ¢â‚¬â€all girls, and four grandchildren.
What would you want to pass on to your children?
A spirit of hard work, honesty and being of service to people in need.
What role has your husband played in your life?
My husband has given me moral support and administrative tips.
What kind of foods do you like?
I enjoy our local Malawian delicacies; Nsima, Chambo and variety of local vegetables.
What are we likely going to find you doing during your free time?
Reading the Bible, spending quality time with my family, listening to music or attending to local community church activities.