Challenges Uganda intervention encourages detergent manufacturer to clean up its financial management and sales strategies

Armour Group Uganda Challenges Group

Strong demand and a diverse portfolio should have brought success for Kampala-based Armour Group Ltd, a family-owned detergent manufacturer with 12 employees. But with little growth and challenging financials, it was clear that something was going wrong. Challenges consultants undertook an Enterprise Diagnostic on the business … with some eye-opening results, and have since been brought in to help strengthen the Ugandan business.

Armour Group Limited is a family-owned detergent manufacturing business that produces nine different cleaning and sanitising products, ranging from bar soap for the home consumer, liquid soap for businesses, and its more heavy-weight degreaser for industrial kitchens and catering businesses. Its bar soap – by far its most popular product – is made from locally sourced natural oils, and has no industrial residues.

Founded in 2014, Armour Group now employs 12 staff from its base in Najjeera in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.

Despite strong demand for its products, and in particular its natural bar soap, Armour struggled to grow turnover or increase market share. Challenges Uganda consultants were invited to undergo an Enterprise Diagnostic to analyse the business’s operations, strengths and weaknesses, and to recommend areas for change.

The Challenges intervention quickly identified huge potential for the business, but also a series of significant internal obstacles that required prompt attention.

Although demand was strong for its products, Armour was failing to capitalise on the market due to the lack of a cohesive sales strategy. The business suffered from poor record keeping, and as a result, had no internal mechanism to record expenses nor manage costs.

As a result of poor management practices, such as a lack of record-keeping and inventory management and non-existent sales strategy, Armour was subject to a poor credit situation that exacerbated its tight working capital. Despite its sales, Armour was registering a decline in profits. In the first week of our intervention, Challenges analysts highlighted a massive increase in the business’s losses, which had grown from a year-on-year loss of 18% in 2016 to an eye-watering 83% in 2017. Due to poor record-keeping, management had not realised the severity of the problem.

As part of the Enterprise Diagnostic, Challenges recommended ways to improve Armour’s financial management systems, and strategies to improving their capital position. We also worked to develop internal controls to enable better planning and budgeting: moving the financial recording to an accessible accounting platform meant that managers were better able to understand the company’s financial position.

In addition, we also recommended methods to improve internal and external communications, as well as sales reporting, forecasting and analysis.

Challenges encouraged the management at Armour Group to implement a training plan for new sales staff to drive sales and generate brand awareness. It also highlighted the need for product-specific sales strategies; consistent branding; a ring-fenced R&D budget for product development; robust market assessment; and clearer value propositions to its separate customer segments.

As part of the support, Challenges recommended Armour looked at ways to optimise production through available technology, and a more efficient supply chain. Expanding market reach into other regions of Uganda would also create new sales jobs for young Ugandans who could be trained as sales representatives, a strategy that would also make the business more attractive to impact investors.

Although the recommendations were far-reaching and made difficult reading for Armour’s management, quick adoption by Armour had a positive impact on the business, which has since recorded a slowdown in its net loss. The business has subsequently commissioned Challenges Uganda to undertake a more thorough intervention that will see Challenges staff working directly with Armour to create market linkages, give sales support and drive business development. The results of this will be published in the new year.

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Future bright for Rwandan coffee co-op after Challenges’ solar power initiative

Rwandan Meshpower Rwanda Challenges Group

In 2017, Challenges began working with eight coffee co-operatives in Rwanda as part of a forward-looking project to generate sustainable growth. With backing from the Scottish Government, this has project also pioneered the adoption of innovative solar technology, drastically improving the prospects of a remote coffee co-op severely hampered by a lack of electricity.

Since 2017, the Challenges team in Rwanda has been working with eight coffee co-operatives to build capacity, generate market links, deliver leadership training and improve sustainability.

But alongside this far-reaching project sits another innovative programme that beautifully demonstrates Challenges’ methodology of innovation, partnership and sustainability, as well as our commitment to clean energy!

Rwanda, and its large agricultural sector, is liable to be hit hard by climate change. It is something that its farmers and politicians alike are all too aware of. And as part of the Scottish Government’s climate justice campaign, capital funds were made available for a pilot programme for the innovative use of an innovative product, championed by Challenges.

Solar PV micro-grids are breaking new ground across much of Africa as individuals and organisations realise the potential for solar energy to connect difficult-to-reach communities. In 2018, Challenges partnered with Meshpower, a state-of-the-art micro- and mini-solar grid engineering company, to deliver such a system to one of the recipient co-operatives.

At Challenges’ we always measure our work by the impact it can create, the economic growth it can facilitate, and the sustainability for the future. Selecting which co-operative was not an easy task, but measured against these factors we chose Buhanga in southern Rwanda. Cut off from the national grid, Buhanga lacked electricity in its office, due in part to its remoteness and in part the expense of generators. But the business also suffered from break-ins, while the inability for staff to use laptops or other electrical equipment inhibited further growth. When we spoke to the management team at Buhanga it was clear to us all that the potential for the scheme and the opportunities it could create was significant.

The Meshpower Installation at Buhanga is a clean energy solution to a continent-wide rural problem: access to reliable energy. This installation, slated for completion in December 2018, now enables the coffee co-op to develop and open new methods of data gathering and storing, book-keeping, marketing and so on. It also gives them the opportunity for a modest secondary income as they can now charge a minimal fee for members of the local communities to charge phones or print documents. And it means that co-op staff will be trained in both the solar PV technology but also the equipment and software its adoption has enabled. The Buhanga coffee co-op now has a valuable income-generating asset that enables business growth and staff development.

As we monitor the success of this clean energy programme, as part of the wider Coffee Market Building for People and Prosperity project, we look forward to seeing this pilot rolled out beyond Rwanda, and used to create a case for ethical lenders and grant-makers to invest in similar initiatives at other sites lacking in sustainable and reliable clean energy.

When Challenges first approached Meshpower about this initiative, we had no idea this was the first project of this kind the business had undertaken. It’s also likely the first of its kind in the region … and maybe all of Africa! Who knows, maybe one day every co-operative office will hum with solar energy!

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Sales boost for pioneering Ghanaian bamboo bike manufacturer after Challenges intervention

Booomers International Ghana Challenges Group

Booomers International is a bamboo bicycle manufacturing and distribution company based in Ghana. Its vision is to grow the brand globally, pioneering its sustainable and innovative bamboo products, while also providing employment to young Ghanaians and supporting a community project that works to target poverty through greater access to education. Challenges undertook a comprehensive business diagnostic with Booomers that included a market assessment and business support and development. Following our involvement, Booomers reported improvements across a number of areas, including sales and marketing, financial management and production.

Booomers International Ltd is a Ghanaian social enterprise that produces high-quality, affordable bamboo products while maintaining a social mission that seeks to bring economic and social benefits to its customers and its staff. Launched in 2014 by entrepreneur Kwabena Danso, the business’s flagship product is its bamboo bike frames, and it has recently diversified to produce a growing range of bamboo accessories, from bike baskets to children’s trikes.

(L to R) Boadu Isaac, works as part of the gluing team. Kwabena Danso, founder of Booomers. Ampousah Boateng Selina is Deputy Operations Manager.

Now a thriving and successful SME, Booomers has produced more than 2500 bike frames and thousands more bamboo accessories, with stockists across the UK, Germany, the US and the Far East. At the time of Challenges’ intervention, the business had 28 employees, only two of whom were female. Booomers has since grown its workforce to more than 50 staff, and also indirectly supports dozens of local bamboo farmers and other young people associated with the cultivation and harvesting of the crop.

As part of our initial consultation, Challenges’ business advisers worked closely with the Booomers management team, running an in-depth enterprise diagnostic that examined a wide range of areas. As well as strength and opportunities, our assessment also looked at areas such as barriers to growth, rivals, legislative obstacles, and so on.

One of our key findings was that Booomers lacked a robust marketing strategy, and that as a result, it suffered from poor brand awareness. As part of our intervention, we supported the management team with the creation of marketing collateral and PR activity. Another barrier to Booomers growth was the high cost of transport of materials.

After the intervention, Challenges made a series of recommendations in a number of key areas.

Looking at Booomers’ organisational structure, we recommended the business standardised its training, and that it worked towards a more diverse and educated workforce. Given that Booomers was donating 15% of its profits to the Yonso Project, which works to alleviate poverty through education, we suggested greater ties with the initiative. We also recommended that Booomers shared its business mission and social vision with its staff through improved internal communications.

When it came to its product offering, Challenges’ business advisers recommended Booomers looked at diversification, and proposed a range of possible bamboo products, from laminate flooring to bike accessories. We also suggested improvements to production management, both to improve efficiencies while also reducing waste and streamlining operations.

With regards to sales and marketing, we recommended Booomers invested in marketing support, either internally through a direct appointment or externally through a marketing agency. As part of this, we encouraged the management team to create a robust B2B marketing strategy, B2C advertising campaign, and product strategy that addressed the various value chains in its different markets.

Booomers now offers an in-house training programme that gives experience and employment for young people in the local rural community. Crucially, it takes trainees through the entire manufacturing process, from the harvesting of bamboo through to the final assembly of bespoke bicycles in order to ensure they’re equipped with a diverse skill set.

Booomers continues to court success, and has also had support from the YouthActionNet program, the UK Department for International Development’s ENGINE project, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program and the African Entrepreneurship Award. Most recently its chief executive Kwabena was selected for the Obama Foundation Leaders African Programme 2018.

Following the our intervention, Challenges has continued to work closely with Booomer, and has helped the Ghanaian business create market linkages with stockists in the UK and mainland Europe.

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Pioneering research prompts banking giant Prudential to develop bespoke insurance products for Zambia’s entrepreneurs

Prudential Zambia Challenges Group

The Challenges team in Zambia has undertaken a ground-breaking assessment of 80 small and medium enterprises across 18 sectors to understand their needs as part of an innovative partnership with global insurance giant Prudential and Zambian enterprise agency PEPZ. Their findings have helped Prudential shape a new range of financial product and services geared towards SMEs, while also deconstructing some of the negative myths around insurance.

Challenges is committed to supporting business and helping them grow, through implementing good operational and business practice, and encouraging the development of SME-centred products and services. We know that as businesses grow, everyone benefits through increased earnings and stable jobs leading to growth in the wider economy.

One of the issues sometimes overlooked by entrepreneurs and small business owners is life insurance, an area often clouded by myth and misinformation.

Aware of the potential to support Zambia’s SMEs and the need to generate greater awareness of its products, the global insurance giant Prudential partnered with the Challenges team in Zambia, tapping into their expert knowledge of the SME landscape and its extensive network of contacts and businesses. Zambian enterprise agency PEPZ also supported the project, which aimed to deliver a much-needed life insurance product to small business owners; people who were all too often excluded from traditional products and who, according to our findings, felt excluded from such offerings or felt they didn’t apply to them.

Insurance in Zambia

Market penetration for life insurance in Zambia is minuscule; for the past few years, it’s sat at less than 1% of a population of some 17 million people. But it’s not just life insurance; insurance products as a whole are only activated up by about 5% of the population.

Across many business owners, we found that there was a widespread belief that insurance was expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, while many people considered it an unnecessary cost, rather than an important asset to their business.

Aware of these issues, Prudential sought to design a product that catered to SMEs and entrepreneurs, leading to the PRU SMART Entrepreneur insurance, the first of its kind in Southern Africa.

The PRU SMART Entrepreneur is designed to provide Group Life Assurance Cover to small businesses, who, because of the unstructured nature of SME and entrepreneurs’ operations and lack of formal salaries, make them unattractive for conventional Group Life cover. The new Prudential product was designed specifically for the SME and entrepreneur, with the aim of increasing the financial inclusion of these businesses. The research undertaken by Challenges consultants was integral to the development of this innovative insurance product.

Prior to its launch, Prudential wanted to assess the product design and its planned distribution to SMEs and entrepreneurs, commissioning the Challenges team to undertake a far-reaching and in-depth market research project in Lusaka and in Zambia’s Copperbelt provinces. The research had two aims: to test Prudential’s own assumptions, and to ensure maximise the customer value that Prudential could deliver with the product, bringing greater benefit to the business people.

The Challenges researchers found that businesses are willing to pay more if they think the product gives them a truly special and significant value, and if the product is presented to them in just the right way.

The team also found that the majority of SMEs (62%) had set aside savings for when unexpected events that could affect their business, such as death, disability and critical illnesses.

Our analysis showed there was significant potential for the Prudential product, and following the research, we recommended a number of changes to the PRU SMART product. We also found that although there was clearly a market for this product, customer education and intelligent marketing would be invaluable to help the potential customers among Zambia’s SME community understand and appreciate the PRU SMART insurance. 

Key findings: 

  • Majority of SME-owners prepared for unexpected events, relying on savings, family, etc
  • Research spanned 79 SMEs across 18 sectors, ranging from renewables and health to tourism and transport.
  • Almost half of SMEs had some form of motor insurance, while nearly one in three had fire/theft insurance.
  • About one in six SMEs had no insurance whatsoever.

Two-thirds of SMEs agreed the PRU SMART product met their needs. Only 5% said it didn’t.

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