Fostering the Spirit of Entrepreneurship – Learning From the Retail Entrepreneur [opinion]

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Byline: Dr Wilfred Isak April

Aug 28, 2013 (New Era/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — LAST week we learned from an entrepreneur in the medical sector but this week I was fortunate enough to speak to a middle-aged entrepreneur in the retail sector.

I met this woman in one of the lectures at the University of Namibia (Unam). She looked very reserved and shy, but they say never judge a book by its cover.

I was cautioned not to disclose any personal details for this column, but I believe we can learn a lot from her story.

Initially this student/retail entrepreneur enrolled for a teaching qualification at the old Academy in the mid-80’s, and she secured a government scholarship.

Things did not turn out as was expected, as one of the scholarship administrators raised her voice towards her, and she decided to quit and returned back to her village.

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Prior to independence this flamboyant middle-aged entrepreneur enrolled for a nursing qualification, simply because she could earn an income while studying.

As a nurse she learned how to generate extra income by selling Tupperware. She sold to both students and staff members. As if that additional income was not enough, she decided to sell Alfonsino fish. This required that she finish her job as a nurse 4:30pm each Friday, drive to the coast, sleep for two hours, collect the Alfonsino fish and drive back to Windhoek in the early hours of the morning.

She was known as the “fish lady” in town. This business really aroused her entrepreneurial spirit, as she earned a reasonable amount of cash.

In the meantime she was frustrated with her job as nurse; sometimes most of the equipment in the hospital was not working and there was also a shortage of medicine. The turning point in her life was when they were cutting the umbilical cord of a newly born baby, and the scissors were not working. She jumped to the rescue but the blood was just flowing everywhere. As advised by those close to her, she quit her job, and opened a store for cosmetics and beauty products.

She says being an entrepreneur in the retail sector brings with it a lot of opportunities and challenges.

The retail sector is very competitive. According to her, Namibians find it very hard to accept new products.

In addition the South African market kills new products. Big stores such as Edgars and Pick n Pay in the last few years have diverted their focus to beauty products and they sell on credit, while she is mostly selling for cash.

Another big challenge for her is the influx of international entrepreneurs from Nigeria, India and the Middle East.

She was of the opinion that it could be better if some markets only opened to Namibian SMEs, then things could be better for local entrepreneurs.

Another challenge she experienced was that there was no profit during the first five years of the business, so she constantly had to re-evaluate the business goals and strategy.

As we continued the conversation she gave us hope that being financially disciplined entering the retail sector is worth it.

The initial years of starting off can be frustrating but the financial freedom she enjoys today make it so much worthwhile. She says: “While I am at Unam, I make cash.”

But why did she decide to enroll at Unam for a degree? She tried to apply for a professional policy and she was told, “We only sign up people with a degree” and not a diploma.

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She is determined to graduate in 2015. Her advice to fellow Namibians is equip and empower yourself, Namibia has plenty of opportunities as long as you are willing to offer something unique and remember the customer is KING.

She concludes: Do not put your daily income in your pocket, because somewhere along the road you will be tempted to buy milk or bread. Learn basic saving skills and try to put your money in the bank.

Dr Wilfred Isak April lectures in Leadership, Organizational Behaviour and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Management at Unam. He holds an Honours in HR & Industrial Psychology, Master of Commerce and PhD in Entrepreneurship from the University of Stellenbosch and New Zealand respectively.

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