When Covid-19 came knocking in Kenya, virtually every sector was hit. Since it was an event in history that nobody had anticipated, nobody within and without the business knew how to react to the roaring virus that was sweeping across the world.
Businesses shut down en masse. To date, the exact number of businesses that have shut down in the last 10 months is not known. Stats place the numbers at around 800,000 SMEs, putting in mind that before Covid-19, at least 450,000 SMEs were dying annually according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
So many Kenyans lost their source of income and livelihood. The known figures stand at 2,000,000 according to KNBS. At the same time, the World Bank says since March 2020, at least 1.0 million Kenyans were driven into “extreme poverty.”
So, as some businesses fall, why are others still standing? What makes them tick? What is the magic bullet behind their survival? With women being the majority in Kenya, by more than 500,000, how are their businesses sailing through the pandemic?
We had a sit-down with Yasmin Kamir, the owner of Eriza Investment Limited, located in Ukunda. The interview was courtesy of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa in their ongoing “Open Like Never Before” program that set aside 125 million shillings to help small retailers and traders across the country.
Initially, in 2013, while working at a hardware shop, Yasmin noticed the high demand for soda and started out with 100 cases bought on loan. This became an additional source of income, getting a 10 shillings profit on each soda. Over the last 7 years, her business grew from selling sodas at a small scale to being the major distributing outlets in Ukunda-Diani, Voi, Samburu, and Mwatete.
Starting with just 6 employees, she now has over 50 employees in total and has empowered many women in the process. A great business is often determined by how able and capable it is in empowering others in society.
The business was doing well until when the pandemic struck. For 5 months, there was a reduction in sales volume as most nightclubs, restaurants, and shops were not operational. This resulted in these businesses being left with almost expired products.
“During the pandemic, all of us were affected. For the first four months into the pandemic, businesses went down. But Coastal Bottlers has really stood with us in ensuring that we remain afloat by allowing us to reduce the number of tracks in order to cut costs incurred such as fuel expenses. The bottlers also issued products in credit form and accepted payments in installments,” she said.
According to Yasmin, was it not for Coastal Bottlers, her business would have long shut down and all her 50 employees left with no hope in these hard economic times. She says the Coca-Cola outlet would give her the stock on credit and gave her a leeway to pay after making sales.
“By giving us stock on credit, made possible for us too to give credit to our consumers; the small retailers because we also understood the challenges they were going through and we did not want to lose them,” she said.
Yasmin says that many of her customers who are small retailers were hit hard by the pandemic. She says so many of them opted to shut down their businesses. Her business offered to give most of the sodas on credit so that they could sell, make their profits and pay her later.
Ukunda and Diani, where Yasmin’s business is located, is dominated by hotels and bars. When the pandemic came, many hotels had to shut down, as well as bars. The hotels in the region rely heavily upon tourists from other countries. The cessation of movement that had been put in place by President Uhuru Kenyatta, meant tourists could not fly into the country. The number of visitors arriving in Kenya dropped by more than 86 percent according to stats from the Ministry of Tourism.
With no visitors coming, hotels and bars were left with a stock that was to expire. The majority of them were worried. Losses were imminent and there was no hope of Covid-19 fading away any time soon. To cushion her customers in the hotel industry from running into losses due to the expiry of sodas, Yasmin and her employers went into every hotel, collecting sodas that were nearing expiry so that they could sell them first.
Yasmin says her star in the soda business started shining when an official from Coca-Cola by the name of Nick Maina visited her shop and was impressed that she had all typed of sodas from Coca-Cola. He left and came back with the head of Coastal Bottlers then, Mr. Ibrahim Kuri, who helped her get a loan of one million shillings and propelled her business to the next level.
“Coca-Cola cares. They know how to identify opportunities and talents and are always ready to hold your hand whenever you need them. All it needs is, to be honest, and hardworking,” she said.
Yasmin says women in business can do better than anybody else provided they work extra hard. “They must be willing to move an extra mile. If you need something so bad, then you have to sacrifice.”