It is an old business with, surely not the oldest profession. Even the Lord Jesus was not amused and cracked a whip at those selling their merchandise in the Holy Temple: the single episode in which His anger was unleashed. The rest is a story of love, miracles and teachings that influence many of us, believers, atheists and all sorts of characters. You can even add cashgaters to the list. It doesn’t matter whether they belong to the K1.7 billion, K92 billion or the K577 billion camps.
Retail is probably the easiest business for everyone. That is why in the biblical times you had many people doing it, even straying into undesignated places. All it takes is to buy a few items and sell them again. Malawians have been very good at it and sometimes quite innovative.
Think of the looming food crisis, courtesy of some sexy term, El-Niño or is it El-Chapo? Few clever Malawians have innovated to make a killing. Given that money is hard to find these days, for reasons undiscussable to respect matters in court, traders are making a killing. Other traders have taken barter trade to a much higher level.
It has become a norm to pay casual workers in kind than cash. For example, you simply pay them bags of maize than cash. The food crisis is real. Such traders are simply moving with the times. Given our farming culture and the high costs of fertilisers, others are buying off maize using fertilisers. It sounds very harsh if you consider the rules of social justice. That is how brutal and ruthless trading or business tends to be.
Smart traders simply move with time. They read the market and find the right product. Besides, they will try as much as possible to enrich the knowledge gap instead of basking in some unproven or theoretical knowledge. All I am saying is that it is not complex science or rocket science. If you see these small shops run by Burundi’s and other emerging retailing chains, one thing is common. They simply read the market, understand consumer tastes and design their business model accordingly. If read this deeper, you will appreciate how the Chipiku brand has grown in just a few years and how others have gone into dustbins.
So, when it came out that Peoples or PTC, they way I like it, was closing a lot of shops across the country I was not surprised. It has always been closing and doing a lot of textbook reforms instead of finding innovative ways to sell Sobo or kapenta. I think their reforms will stop when they close all their shops. You do not just close a loss-making unit, but instead you find ways to make it profitable. Walk into any of their shops. The product display is mediocre and like many Malawi businesses do not care whether people come and shop from their premises. Sometimes shops are simply closing because you are selling the wrong products. For example, why would a retailer stock a shop at Ntaja or Ekwendeni with wine? Others would simply not do it.
Small shops in our residential suburbs know the tricks better, for instance. They stock their little stores with products that are generally consumed by people living within their locations. As a result, they do not have huge unsold stock. It is a simplistic comparison, but I think it lets you go into the big picture of things. One can clearly see the reasons why certain retailers are blossoming while others are closing shop, and sadly, soon, they will be a good case study in business schools.
Maybe it is now confirmed. Not everything they teach in business schools works in real life. Most of what they teach is required to pass an exam and have degrees that lead to all these titles. All you need is read the market, bring some technology and invest in staff to deliver the goods. They are a lot of small traders and big ones too across the country that are quite successful and expanding their businesses. A brand like PTC should not be going down to the gutter like that.
Trading or retailing is not complex science.